Fibbing on Lokpal may not work

…now that Baba Ramdev’s fast seems imminent

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | May 31, 2011


Anna Hazare
Anna Hazare

The stage is set for another round of battle of wits on corruption. Two months after Anna Hazare’s fast jolted the government into action, Baba Ramdev is starting another round of indefinite fast from June 4 at the Ramlila grounds in New Delhi. And going by the way the government has tackled the Lokpal Bill issue that emerged as the rallying point of the Anna’s fast, it seems more trouble is waiting for the government.

Given the advance notice Baba Ramdev gave about his plan of action, it would have been wiser for the government to have sorted out the Lokpal issue by now. In contrast it has hardened its stance, which would only mean a bigger public support for Baba Ramdev, with Anna and his team joining him in the battle to fight corruption.

Monday’s meeting between the government’s representatives and Anna’s saw the former insisting on keeping the judiciary, prime minister, members of parliament and bureaucrats below the rank of joint secretary out of Lokpal’s jurisdiction. This legitimized Justice Santosh Hegde’s question to the government about who should then be covered by the Lokpal. Interestingly, the government’s own formulation of the Lokpal until now had the prime minister and the members of parliament in the ambit of the Lokpal. So why this dilution now? The only logical answer to that is the old reluctance of the politicians not to subject themselves to any anti-corruption mechanism.

But if such a stand had helped the politicians put the Lokpal off for the past 42 years, it is unlikely to do so now. Anna and his colleagues from the civil society have now threatened to walk out in protest. They know Baba Ramdev’s fast will provide them another platform to whip up public sentiments against corruption beginning with Saturday. It will be the government which will be painted to the wall again.

To be sure, the government is desperate to prevent Baba Ramdev from sitting on fast. They know the down side and hence an attempt to placate him. Last Saturday it announced setting up a committee under the CBDT chairman to examine ways to curb black money. The next day, it commissioned a study by top economists to estimate the extent of black money stashed abroad. On Monday, it announced a Directorate of Criminal Investigation to deal with criminal matters punishable under the direct tax law under the CBDT, which will function in eight high wealth generating cities of the country.

But these measures have failed to impress Baba Ramdev, and rightly so. This government, as indeed the case with previous governments, has the habit of setting up committees to be seen as doing something without actually meaning to do anything to fight corruption or the black money menace. The way the supreme court forced the government to act in cases relating to the 2G spectrum and CWG scams and the Hasan Ali case in recent times is ample evidence of this lack of intent on part of the government.

Baba Ramdev’s fast later this week, therefore, would severely test the government’s mettle and propensity to deceive the public on all matters relating to corruption. The bigger question, however, is if the yoga guru will be able to take the agenda set by Anna Hazare to its logical conclusion.

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