‘We are making a law that will not allow for political games’

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By Rohini Mohan

Santosh Hegde
Santosh Hegde,
Karnataka Lokayukta
Photo: SB Satish

There has been talk that the Lokpal should be on the lines of the Karnataka Lokayukta model. What does that mean?
Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka are the only two states where Lokayuktas go after corruption. Neither the law nor the state administration makes it easy for them. The Karnataka model gives us a template on which to improve upon. We can now probe senior officers but still can’t go after their political bosses, unless someone registers a complaint. The Lokpal and Lokayukta must have suo moto powers.

Will the Lokpal be equipped to handle the workload?
We can’t exclude bureaucrats and have a Lokpal only for politicians. They are the face of institutionalised corruption. In every scam, we have gone after politicians but let off corrupt government officials. They are the conjoined twins of corruption and maladministration, without whose support no 2G scam or CWG graft could have happened. Practically, of course, we can’t probe everyone from the peon to the minister, so we could confine the jurisdiction of the Lokpal to the joint secretary, additional secretary and secretary apart from politicians. If we do want to bring all public servants under the Lokpal’s purview, we could have regional-level Lokayuktas, or sometimes authorise any state agency or the CBI to probe and send a report to us. These modalities need to be discussed in the joint committee.

There is fear that a centralised Lokpal will have disproportionate power.
The Jan Lokpal Bill says that the Lokpal will be judge, jury and executive. That is not a good idea. But that is not happening — I wouldn’t have joined the team if it was unconstitutional.

Did you think civil society was holding the government to ransom and dictating terms?
Our country has chosen a system of governance: democracy. But that doesn’t mean that we have given a carte blanche to the legislature, judiciary and executive. When they wrong, are we supposed to shrug and say, what can we do, we only chose them? In reality, we should have left it to the legislature. It shouldn’t have needed a movement and a fast. But in sensitive matters like anti-corruption, can we trust our MPs and MLAs to go beyond protecting their constituency and enact a law strong enough to tighten the noose around their own neck? We did, for 40 years. But governments have played around with anti-corruption laws. This is not a Bill like any other; it doesn’t affect us citizens directly, but affects the people in power, which is why they have crippled it. We expect our leaders to do their jobs, but I for one lost trust when on 23 December 2008, the Parliament passed 17 Bills in 12 minutes, without any discussion whatsoever. It included amendments to an anti-corruption law. Three sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act were removed, and only civil society prevented the Bill from going to the Rajya Sabha. After this, how can they say it’s my prerogative, stay away?

Are we losing trust in politicians and democracy?
Even before this Lokpal issue, it was not our MPs who actually sat down and framed law. They always had help, advice from intellectuals and interested bureaucrats. But the situation has arisen where we needed to push the process into action. Procedurally anyway it is politicians who will pass it. Nobody has taken the power away from politicians or democratic representatives. Usually, none of us know the contents of any new law that is passed. This time, ordinary citizens were discussing provisions. Like a civics class, we were all learning about lawmaking from the beginning. We renewed our trust in democracy, not the other way around.

Despite having a Lokayukta, Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa is untouched. Will the Lokpal end up struggling similarly?
Let us forget that the Karnataka CM is still around, or that Congress opposed a Lokpal, or BJP supported it. A political representative on a television debate — actually a lot of people — have been saying that this is a small agitation, it is useless in the long term. Do they know how difficult it is for people to question corruption? Everyday, I see a case I cannot touch because no one is complaining — because of fear, apathy, cynicism. Now, at least for some time, people spoke up en masse. It revives their confidence in justice and solutions. The political games are besides the point. We are making a law that will not allow such games.

There have been doubts about whether the Lokpal will be truly independent.
We have grown into a society that practically has a vested interest in everything. Be it an NGO, a person supporting a civil society movement, or a public servant. All of us have agendas, as do MPs and MLAs. It’s a society that keeps asking, “What’s in it for me?” or “Will I become the Lokpal?” But in the process of the agitation, I realised that we must believe in creating a system that will be immune to these agendas. I haven’t met or spoken to Anna Hazare. Still, I was chosen in the committee, despite disagreeing with some measures. It is possible to have an independent body.

Do you think the media helped or impeded the process?
Let us not look at the media as a commentator. It’s a participant, maybe reducing the exclusivity and nuance of the movement, but also adding power. They were on the right side this time. Corruption is a middle-class concern, but people reacted only because the media made them notice. Hazare is not a great political power. But his questions have brought a lot of people together. It was a preliminary step that helped us get into one closed gate. Going into the next one, called administration, we’re going to face stiff opposition from government representatives. But because of the movement, they can’t have their way again.

Rohini Mohan is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka
[email protected]

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