Anna’s pathshala: What about parliament’s accountability?

Lokpal is being debated for 42 years with zero result


Prasanna Mohanty | August 25, 2011

What made Pranab Mukherjee, the Congress’ most politically savvy and sensitive leader, to dismiss Team Anna so disdainfully Wednesday night? What made him go back on all his and his government’s previous assurances on the Lokpal bill and also dismiss Anna’s fast as none of his or his government’s business?

The answer clearly lies in the views expressed by non-Congress political parties in parliament and then at the all-party meet held in the day.

NDA convener and JD-U leader Sharad Yadav set the tone. He said while participating in a debate on corruption in parliament that “supremacy of parliament” shouldn’t be allowed to be undermined and that though he was in favour of a “strong Lokpal” it should be made “within the constitutional framework”.

At the all-party meet that followed, the opposition parties again underlined “supremacy of parliament”, “its inviolable” processes and said parliament could not be allowed to function under the pressure of the outsiders.

The implication was that Team Anna had no business dictating terms to parliament. Anna’s preconditions to break his fast – (a) Jan Lokpal be considered by parliament and (b) a strong Lokpal bill be cleared by August 30 ¬– amounted to an assault on the “supremacy of parliament”.

It also meant that the parliamentarians wanted to the Lokpal bill to be discussed by the standing committee as a matter of due process and they can’t be forced to pass it within a time frame.
None, however, paused for a moment to reflect how for the past 42 long years parliament has only been debating the Lokpal bill. Eight times standing committees have examined it. But the net result is zero.

For the past five months, the country has debated nothing but Lokpal. And never before in our country’s history has any legislation been so exhaustively talked about for so long. The net result is, as Prashant Bushan described it at the end of the futile talk with Pranab Mukherjee, back to square one.

If the parliamentarians are to be given a free hand, as the rhetoric about “parliamentary supremacy” suggest, it will mean another round of endless debate, rather, talks.

The legal sovereignty of parliament notwithstanding, the obvious question that arises is whether parliament has any accountability. Conventional wisdom suggests that it is answerable to people, but once in five years when parliamentary elections are held.

That has clearly proved useless.

So what do “we, the people” do? Are we supposed to live at the mercy of parliament?
Anna, and his team, seems to think otherwise. That is why Anna is on fast and is insisting that his conditions be met before he withdraws.

Whether his method is Gandhian, whether he is a Gandhian and a “visionary” too (Ramachandra Guha thinks he isn’t) pale in significance once it is realized that Anna’s success would mean a paradigm shift in law-making process in the country.

Ordinary people seem to understand this, but not the parliamentarians and the public intellectuals, now including Ramachandra Guha. None of them seem to mind corruption. They seem more bothered about the process, rather than the content of the Anna’s movement.



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