Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere (Retd)
PhD in civil structural dynamics from I.I.T, Madras
S. G. Vombatkere retired as major general after 35 years in the Indian military. He is engaged in voluntary social work, and is member of the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) and People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). As Adjunct Associate Professor of the University of Iowa, USA, he coordinates and lectures a course on Science, Technology and Sustainable Development for under-graduate students from USA and Canada. He holds a master of engineering degree in structural engineering from the University of Poona and a PhD in civil structural dynamics from I.I.T, Madras.
Over the past decades successive Union governments of various political hues have not even gotten to the stage of tabling a Lokpal Bill, and combined with a rash of monumental scams in the past couple of years, it has pushed the corruption issue on to the front page.
The nation is agog with the face-off between what has come to be known as “Team Anna” led by Anna Hazare and the Congress-led UPA Union government on the subject of corruption, focussed as it is on the Jan Lokpal Bill suggested by Team Anna and the weak Lokpal Bill produced by the Union government. Anna Hazare wants the Jan Lokpal Bill placed before Parliament while the Union government appears terrified that it may rake up dirt even if it is eventually passed in a severely diluted form. Fear of negative political fall-out affecting election results is something that all political parties not excluding the UPA suffer from, because none of them appear interested in much beyond holding on to power if they are in power or displacing the party in power if they are not. The Union government favours the structurally weak Lokpal Bill that, even if it is strengthened during parliamentary process, will not impinge much on present unfettered powers to indulge in corrupt practices.
Congress spokespersons have come out in brazen personal attacks on Anna Hazare and others in his group, alleging corruption on their part as if, even if it were true, they are not eligible to demand corruption-free governance. Now the PM says that there is “no magic wand” to tackle corruption as if anybody imagines that corruption would vanish by the use of a single instrument like a Jan Lokpal Act. While Presidential wisdom on corruption in the Address to the Nation says the same thing, it also goes a bit beyond: “... there cannot be just one panacea or remedy to deal with it, but a system of transparency and accountability should be put in place at various levels, and then effectively enforced.” That being the view of the Head of State and its Chief Executive, the attacks by government spokespersons on citizens who are asking for precisely the same thing is unreasonable, and unbecoming of a party that led the Independence movement. The President also calls for restraint in the anti-corruption fight. This is a welcome call and should serve as a message to the Union government to quit its shrill and strident condemnation of civil society demands.
The institution of Parliament is a sacred organ of our Constitution. But the faith of the common man in the nation's supreme legislature is somewhat shaken by the quality of some of its (albeit elected) members who have criminal records. The fact that certain “responsible” Lok Sabha Members have brazenly stated that they shall decide on a daily basis whether or not to allow Parliament to function does not increase public faith in the functioning or effectiveness of this noble institution.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, Anna Hazare is not challenging the legislative authority of Parliament. He only demands that the Jan Lokpal Bill be placed before it and he will abide by its decision. But the Jan Lokpal Bill can be placed before Parliament only by the Union government and not by Anna Hazare or any other person or entity. Thus Anna Hazare is challenging not the Legislative but the Executive arm of the Constitution. The Judiciary not having as yet been dragged into the fray, is no doubt carefully watching developments.
Quite apart from resisting an effective Lokpal institution, the Union government has directed the Delhi Police to place restrictions (numbering twenty-two, concerning duration, number of people, etc) on the peaceful anti-corruption protests planned to re-commence on August 16, the day following Independence Day. These unreasonable restrictions violate the fundamental right of peaceful assembly without weapons, and are likely to be peacefully defied by Team Anna, leading to their arrest and further negative publicity for the Union government. Who can tell what the morrow may bring as India steps into its 65th year of Independence? Whatever it may bring, it is certain that the stakes will be raised.