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Strange exemption for NAC by Team Anna

Strange exemption for NAC by Team Anna

Author: Kanchan Gupta
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: July 2, 2011
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/350169/Strange-exemption-for-NAC-by-Team-Anna.html

So Anna Hazare and his chosen guardians of probity in public life are back where they started from: Nowhere. After forcing the UPA regime to give in to their astounding demand for setting up a joint committee comprising representatives of the Government and the so-called 'civil society' that has come to dominate public discourse fashioned by garrulous anchors who monopolise prime time television news, Anna Hazare and his team had expected to push through their Jan Lok Pal Bill, which bears little or no resemblance to the proposed sarkari Lok Pal Bill.

The Opposition was studiously ignored and specifically excluded from the exercise by both the Government and the 'civil society' wallahs. Ironically, Anna Hazare is now busy petitioning opposition parties to solicit their support; gone is the contempt with which 'India Against Corruption' treated those outside the UPA tent while adopting a minatory attitude towards the Congress, especially its president, but that's another story to be told another day.

True to its nature, the Congress played along for a while, pandering to the 'Gandhian' and his lieutenants, among them lawyers who aggressively plead for the rights of jihadis, Maoists and other such violators of the law of the land, and a past-his-youth activist who aspires to become the Chief Information Commissioner and live off tax-payers' money. Simultaneously, the Congress instructed its infamous dirty tricks department to unleash a sly campaign of calumny to tarnish, if not destroy, the carefully cultivated image of Anna Hazare's team members in order to demolish the popular perception of their being men of high honour, unimpeachable integrity and enviable rectitude.

Little more than a month after the UPA regime took the extraordinary measure of notifying a committee lacking constitutional legitimacy and precedence, thus making a mockery of the rights and responsibilities of the executive as delineated by the Constitution, the joint enterprise of rooting out corruption from public life began to unravel. Anna Hazare and his men were adamant on introducing a law, without any debate or deliberation in Parliament, that would create an authority, the Jan Lok Pal, answerable to none, including the country's janata, and bestowed with draconian powers much like the Queen in the Wonderland of Alice's adventures. Off with his (or her) head, the Jan Lok Pal would decree, and the executioner would come marching in.

The Government's representatives realised that there's no way Parliament would approve such a law and the efforts to forge a middle ground predictably failed as they were destined to. Do-gooders allow themselves to be overwhelmed by a sense of self-righteous indignation and more often than not refuse to reconcile their perceived notions of virtuous conduct with the realities of the world we live in. That corruption is a vice everybody knows; but how many actually stand up to corrupt practices in their daily lives? Or, to put it more bluntly, are we as a nation willing to give up the repugnant practice of cutting corners by greasing palms in our daily lives?

Which does not mean that corruption must be legitimised, but like any war, the response has to be calibrated: A witch-hunt is not the best way to isolate and punish individuals who are corrupt, nor should an un-elected entity have powers that place him or her above scrutiny, as is being demanded by Anna Hazare and his faction of 'civil society'. If there were a Big Brother keeping a watch over the system, the system would simply stop functioning. No Minister would take any decision as no decision can ever be absolutely correct; any decision, no matter how well-intentioned and reasoned it may be, can be contested and challenged. No bureaucrat would process files and recommend a particular course of action, no matter how unbiased and fair it might be; every recommendation can be given a spin that puts a question mark on the intentions and integrity of the person putting it down on paper.

In the process, we would have a situation where honest politicians - and there are many in politics whose integrity quotient is remarkably high, Mr AK Antony being an example - and upstanding bureaucrats - yes, there are officers who would rather be transferred to inconsequential posts than please their political masters - will simply sit back and do nothing by way of governing the country. Neither an honest politician nor an upstanding bureaucrat would want to be subjected to unwarranted questioning and embarrassing scrutiny by a Jan Lok Pal.

For instance, if the Defence Minister and the Defence Secretary come to the conclusion, after due diligence, that the Indian Air Force should acquire the Eurofighter and not the F-16, and the decision is endorsed by the Cabinet Committee on Security, then the purchase should proceed smoothly. But a Jan Lok Pal who doesn't know the difference between the F-16 and the Eurofighter and has been flooded with allegations of misdeed by agents of the American company masquerading as conscience-keepers of the nation, would throw a spanner into the works and hold up the purchase process. Worse, the Minister and the Secretary would be made to look like thieves stealing from the national exchequer. In brief, the Jan Lok Pal Bill being peddled by Anna Hazare and his team is based on the premise that everybody in public life, both politicians and bureaucrats, are to be presumed to be corrupt, unethical and venal unless otherwise proved innocent. The burden of proof, expectedly, lies on the accused and not the accuser.

Curiously, while damning every holder of public office, neither Anna Hazare nor his army of the self-righteous has suggested the inclusion of the National Advisory Council as an institution or its chairperson and members as individuals in the list of institutions and individuals over whom the Jan Lok Pal would keep a stern watch and whose activities would be subject to close and public scrutiny. The exclusion doesn't make sense because the NAC is funded by tax-payers; its chairperson draws her salary from the public exchequer; and, its members draw their allowances from the consolidated fund of India. Why, then, shouldn't the NAC be brought under the purview of the Jan Lok Pal? Are we then to assume that this extra-constitutional authority shall continue to enjoy extraordinary privileges even after the appointment of an all-powerful ombudsman?

Or is it because the NAC is essentially a representative body of unelected people who are answerable to none and similar to those who want to decide for India what India needs without bothering to check whether India actually endorses their assumed leadership? The NAC, its website informs us, "has been set up as an interface with Civil Society. The NAC would provide policy and legislative inputs to Government...". This lofty agenda is no different from the unstated wishlist of Anna Hazare and his men. There's more. "The NAC comprises distinguished professionals drawn from diverse fields of development activity who serve in their individual capacities." Substitute 'NAC' for 'Team Anna', and the text, as well as the sub-text, would remain unchanged! Is the exclusion of the NAC from the Jan Lok Pal's watch then a case of 'civil society' standing by 'civil society'? Or is it because the NAC must remain accountable to none?

- Follow the writer on: http://twitter.com/KanchanGupta. Blog on this and other issues at http://kanchangupta.blogspot.com. Write to him at kanchangupta@rocketmail.com


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