The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Corruption in the corridors of power has become the bane of Indian political life. Things have come to such a pass that many people believe that an honest politician is an oxymoron which has ceased to be funny. It is no longer possible to brush this feature underneath the carpet and to pretend that corruption is the exception and not the rule. This is evident from the fact that the Union cabinet has agreed to present the Lokpal bill to Parliament. This bill, a revision of a previous one, seeks to bring the prime minister, his office, all cabinet ministers, legislators and top bureaucrats under its ambit. The revisions were introduced at the behest of the parliamentary standing committee. The original bill had not included the prime minister and his office. But the parliamentary standing committee insisted on their inclusion. This revision should be welcomed. In a democracy, the prime minister is primus inter pares with his cabinet colleagues: thus what holds for the latter holds for the prime minister too. The prime minister cannot be placed above the law by any legislation. Moreover, the prime minister has also an exemplary role to play. While welcoming the revision and the overall bill, it should be remembered that the very fact that such a bill had to be conceived is a commentary on the sad moral state of public life in India. Its wide ambit is a reflection of a situation in which nobody can be placed above suspicion.

But the Lokpal bill bypasses a larger question. This relates to its effectiveness. Is it possible to eradicate and prevent corruption in high places through a legislation' Corruption is a larger societal malaise which afflicts politicians and bureaucrats with a greater virulence than it does ordinary people. There is the danger that a bill of this nature will be reduced to having a nominal presence. It is becoming increasingly clear that the powerful and the wealthy in India use their position to tamper with evidence and sometimes even to do away with it altogether. In this kind of ambience, a Lokpal runs the danger of being utterly ineffective and therefore irrelevant. From the comments of Ms Sushma Swaraj, the minister for parliamentary affairs, it would appear that she is more concerned about the passing of the bill than about its execution. The success of the Lokpal bill will depend on its implementation. Given the track record of Indian politicians in the field of eradicating corruption, it is unavoidable to voice the suspicion that the passing of the Lokpal bill will be a salve to their conscience and in actuality remain only a piece of paper.

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