Q&A Pinaki Misra, BJD MP
BIJU JANATA DAL MP Pinaki Misra, who was part of the Parliamentary Standing Committee that drafted the revised Lokpal Bill, talks about the crisis in governance, in our political system and blames it on opportunistic politics in both the UPA and NDA. His provocative views end up painting a sordid picture of the spectrum of political parties, except for the one he’s part of. Nevertheless, some of the positions he takes make compelling reading for the insights they provide into the breakdown in our political process that has lent the Lokpal movement its power and potency. Misra spoke to Revati Laul.
Excerpts From An Interview
Parliament has been disrupted so much that it’s losing its credibility. Is that the reason why Team Anna is taking centrestage in voicing dissent?
If a constitutional body abdicates responsibility, it will create a power vacuum. The legislature has left a serious vacuum by not functioning for the past 8-9 years. I think Parliament has not been functioning ever since George Fernandes was blacklisted and the Congress never reconciled to the fact that it had lost power to the NDA.
Is Parliament witnessing a battle of egos?
Absolutely. We are cutting our noses to spite our face. Ever since 1999-2000, when a power vacuum was created by MPs, the judiciary first rushed in to fill it. You had a rash of important interventions where the judiciary practically began to run this country. Parliament wasn’t making the laws, so the judiciary did that job. Then, the media rushed in. And now, because of the corruption in the judiciary, they have been on the defensive and have had to step back a bit. There’s a new vacuum and that’s where the civil society has now rushed in.
Why did you send a strong dissent note on the current Lokpal Bill draft?
Our party felt strongly about the fact that the prime minister must be included under the Lokpal’s ambit. We also felt that the CBI must be an independent body.
The draft says that the CBI will be an independent entity but it’s not clear how.
The CBI can never be independent unless the appointment process becomes independent. That’s not there in the new draft. So in a circular way, the CBI is still under the government.
How should corruption in the lower bureaucracy be tackled?
The common man is going to be affected the most by how corruption in the lower bureaucracy is handled. Team Anna has suggested the setting up of a body comprising 40,000 people to deal with it. It’s going to be difficult to bring in a such a big body. Meanwhile, the Aruna Roy group has another solution. It should have been given a closer look and we feel that grievance redressal should be a separate body.
What do you think of the proposal to bring in a separate Judicial Accountability Bill and Whistleblowers’ Act?
We agree with that. And what I also said while I was sitting on the dais with Anna Hazare and other political parties is that everybody has agreed that the Jan Lokpal Bill is also full of problems. The BJP has adopted the Jan Lokpal version in Uttarakhand only because elections are coming up and they want Anna to campaign for them. That’s the cynical approach the BJP has taken and they also want Anna to campaign for them in Uttar Pradesh.
What is the Biju Janata Dal’s view on the Jan Lokpal Bill?
We believe it has several deficiencies, the principal being that it concentrates too much responsibility on the Lokpal. It creates an entirely parallel government.
When you were in the Standing Committee, how were your views taken? How did the discussions go?
Chairman Abhishek Singhvi worked hard. His team did a magnificent job. But I believe he was under pressure.
‘The BJP has adopted the Jan Lokpal Bill in pollbound Uttarakhand because they want Anna to campaign there for them’
Singhvi told TEHELKA last week that he got dissent notes from various political parties only on the last day.
The BJD never wavered. Our position was clear from the start. It is the BJP that went along with the overall view of the Standing Committee till the 11th meeting and suddenly in the 12th and 13th meetings, said, “Oh, by the way, we disagree with everything that’s been said so far and we are going to give a dissent note.” And they gave what was a pre-drafted dissent note.
Why would you say it was pre-drafted?
I know for a fact that the Jan Lokpal team had given out a dissent note to all non- Congress members of the Standing Committee and the BJP just signed it.
Are you saying the BJP was sitting through the meeting with their ears switched off?
Who else was sitting with their ears switched off?
I can’t discuss the specifics, but there was a lot of quirky stuff going on there.
You have to quantify that because it may give us an insight into the difference between parties’ real and stated intents.
There is a difference between real and stated intent of most parties, except ours.
And the government’s intent?
Of course, the government’s intent was questionable. Because everybody wanted the lower bureaucracy to be under Lokpal and the CBI to be independent, when we met on 30 November. And the next day, we saw that both positions were reversed.
The chairman came back and said a fresh meeting is to be held and on both these issues — lower bureaucracy and the CBI — because he had got letters from MPs claiming they had not understood the implication of including the lower bureaucracy in the Lokpal. So they wanted to go back on that. And everybody mindlessly kept parroting that let the old CBI route for probing graft continue. There was no discussion. So the Congress’ intent seemed dishonest.
What about Team Anna’s intent?
These are clearly very committed and highly motivated individuals. There is a zeal about them which is admirable. But what would surprise them is that of all the witnesses we examined in the Standing Committee, nobody thought the Jan Lokpal was a good idea. I think the Jan Lokpal team believed if they pitch their demands high enough, they will get somewhere. The Manmohan Singh government has shown very poor political instinct. You can see the obvious political missteps. The government mishandled the agitation and the civil society mood earlier and I think they are continuing to mishandle it.
In the ultimate analysis, do you think coalition politics has brought us to this pass, where Parliament has become so weak that no business can be conducted?
The bankruptcy of the political leadership is responsible for this. The leaders are guilty of exhorting MPs to go into the well of the House and disrupt proceedings.
Revati Laul is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.