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A BILL TOO FAR

A high note has the potential to drown out less high, less decisive ones. The United Progressive Alliance was badly in need of a high note, and the winter session of Parliament closed — two days before schedule — with the passing of the lok pal bill into law, awaiting the president’s assent. And with the usually reticent Rahul Gandhi declaiming on the “historic” nature of the moment, and pressing for the passing of a clutch of laws that would deliver a comprehensive anti-corruption framework to the nation, the Congress attempted to associate, implicitly, a new future with the promise of clean governance. The political motivation behind the bill was made clearer by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s support as well, for all parties are now bent on appearing morally and politically correct.

That also means, in the context of this bill, a surrendering of good sense, wisdom and the understanding of what representative democracy means. India is already an over-legislated nation; there are more than enough laws to address corruption in all its facets. All that these laws need is proper implementation, with law-enforcing agencies free to pursue their inquiries and a justice system unencumbered with delay. Corruption is undoubtedly an enormous problem, but tackling it demands an enhancement of quality, not quantity. Not more laws, but proper use of existing ones. Besides, the assumptions behind the lok pal are dangerous to the structure of this democracy. One is that a body composed of persons not elected by the people would function more efficiently than government institutions responsible for implementing laws. That it would, in the spirit of Anna Hazare, who is being celebrated as the maker of the legislation, be able to dictate terms to the government and its office-bearers. The rather alarming vision that drove the campaigners for the lok pal has been put into words by Kiran Bedi, one of Mr Hazare’s most visible supporters, that the lok pal would function like a “Supreme Court” in corruption cases. The foolish logic of populism has led to the passage of the lok pal bill, as well as the silly mistake that politicians are prone to — any big crowd in the capital gathering regularly around a self-declared ‘moral’ man is actually the ‘people’ of India. Misplaced fear and insecurity have led to the passage of the bill, not political wisdom.