Debate on The Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill

Transcript of the speech made by Mr H K Dua, MP, Rajya Sabha during the debate on The Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill in the Rajya Sabha on December 29, 2011.

Let’s pass the Lokpal Bill, please

Shri H.K. Dua (Nominated): Thank you, Mr Chairman. I rise to support the Bill. I would like to compliment Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi not only for the brilliance of his speech, but also for the way he led the Standing Committee, whose report is the basis of this Bill. It was a marvellous job done, and, even those who have given dissenting notes – there are quite a few – have complimented his effort.

I think he took it as a mission, and, one reason could be that the first time, it was his father, Dr L M Singhvi, — whom I had the fortune of meeting in Parliament precincts as a young correspondent – who proposed to Jawaharlal Nehru that there should be an ‘ombudsman’ in India,

“What is this animal called, ‘ombudsman”’? asked Jawaharlal Nehru. Dr Singhvi coined a  very nice, simple word, ‘Lokpal”, which is much simpler word than ombudsman can be, and it is with the spirit of the times. But neither Dr L M Singhvi, nor Jawaharlal Nehru, knew that this would lead, over four and a half decades later, into a lot of tumult and controversy in India and in Indian Parliament.

Nevertheless, I am very happy that after considering the Standing Committee’s report, the Government has come out with the Bill, which personally, I think, is a good beginning in the exercise to eradicate corruption from the body politic. I hope, Sir, that this House endorses the decision of the Lok Sabha to pass the Bill. Not passing the Bill will send a wrong signal to the people of India that Parliament has again shirked its duty in passing the Bill. There has been a delay of over four decades. This itself is an argument for passing the Bill now rather than delaying it further.

Sir, the question of federalism has been raised in this House. I am quite surprised about it, but I understand the reasons behind it. They think that Parliament is encroaching upon the rights of the States, which may not be true. Corruption, on one side, we are told, is a national question. The remedies also have to be national. And, if national remedies have to be there, you cannot exclude the States. There can be instances when the Centre would like to trip on the right of the States, but this is not that instance.

Federalism, as the Prime Minister has said, is not an impediment. There can be other reasons. However, an impression should not go to the people that the States are avoiding fighting  against corruption. The States and  their parties should help the passage of this Bill lest it leads to a wrong impression.

The Bill has one clause about which I have a reservation, although it is not that I would like to bring forward an amendment at this time to send it back to the Lok Sabha. The clause seeks to bring the Prime Minister under the purview of the Lokpal.  Now, you cannot have a situation when authority of the office of the Prime minister is compromised, or, his hands are tied. It is odd you want strong Lokpal Bill and a weak Prime Minister! I think, that cannot be a very durable situation for a long time.

Now, this Bill has come before Parliament in a strange kind of circumstances when the so-called civil society has tried to put pressure on Parliament of India and its sovereign rights to pass legislation. Attempts were made to decide the law at Ramlila Ground, at Jantar Mantar, and , later at the MMRDA ground in Mumbai. It was presented as an opinion of the entire people of India.

We also heard some arrogant noises from the stage at Ramlila Ground and Jantar Mantar. Take the entire country and its history. We have seen the Governments or the rulers having the tendency to become arrogant, but I have never seen NGOs becoming arrogant.  See the kind of language that was used, ‘Anna is India’! Another civil society leader said in an interview on television, ‘Anna is above Parliament”. All of us have seen that. I can’t see a more arrogant posture of a set of NGO leaders claiming that they represent the entire people of India. They don’t know that they do not even represent the entire  civil society.

Somehow, they come to presume that they are the only honest people, and, there are no other honest people. I thought, there are more honest people in the country than the NGO leaders presume there are.  Otherwise, I think, the case of their monopolizing the honesty and standards of integrity should be referred to a Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission.

Mr Chairman, Sir, can you allow the laws to be passed at Ramlila Ground, at Jantar Mantar Road or anywhere else by the civil society groups who have arrogated to themselves to proclaim that they are the people? And they say they are the ‘Jan Parliament’. That was the word used only four days ago, immediately on the eve of the Mumbai fast which has been aborted rightly so, because nobody wants Anna Hazare to give away his life.

Sir, He is not the only person who would like to give  his life for the country. There are millions of people who would like to give their life for the country’s sake. Patriotism is also not anybody’s monopoly. There are more people who would line up for giving their life to serve a national cause. Tomorrow another group can come to Ramlila Ground – and that worries me more – and say, “Well, we represent the people of India. You should abolish Parliament, Judiciary or Executive and we will pass the law”.

The Maoists can leave Chattisgarh jungles and Jharkhand and come to Ramlila Ground. No army is going to shoot at them. Right to peaceful protest is there, but the danger is there. Don’t give the right to odd groups outside to pass laws.

Sir, I am very happy, Parliament of India has taken the right step to discuss this Bill, and the level of the debate in both the Houses has been very good. We should not disappoint the people of India by not passing the Lokpal Bill today.

MR CHAIRMAN; Kindly conclude.

Shri H K Dua: Sir, I will just conclude in one minute. In the Constituent Assembly, Dr B R Ambedkar visualized this danger that there could be groups who will decide what laws should be there for the people of this vast country. They would like to decide it, and that will be a danger to the kind of parliamentary democracy we have adopted. I am glad we adopted Parliamentary democracy; but we should not fritter it away after 64 years. Sir, I would quote from the Dr B R Ambedkar’s speech: I quote:

“If we wish to maintain democracy, not merely in form but also in fact, what must we do?  The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional method of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha.”

Possibly, the civil disobedience was okay before Independence, but not afterwards when we have our own Constitution. We are not fighting against foreign rulers.

I will quote DR Ambedkar again: “When there was no way left or constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy, and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.“ (quote ends).

Sir, by passing the Lokpal Bill on our own, and with grace and possibly with unanimity, I think, we will be sending the right message to those who want to create anarchy in the country.

Thank you, Mr Chairman.

Let Parliament not become a casualty of politics

On Monday, December 13, the last day of the winter session, parliamentarians thought of paying floral tributes at a chosen spot alongside   Parliament House to the intrepid men of the watch and ward staff who nine years ago this day  laid down their lives fighting a vicious militants’ attack on the complex.  Inside the two Houses, members later stood in silence.

Gratefulness and solemnity of the occasion lasted barely two minutes, however.  Hardly had the members sat down and the two Houses called to order when the trouble —by now a habit – erupted. Slogan-shouting   began from the opposition benches, and many members, some of them with placards, trooped into the well of the House to block the proceedings as they had been doing everyday during the session.

The Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Mr Hamid Ansari, noted somberly at the end of what had become a daily drill,  that peace prevailed in the session only when obituaries were read. The Speaker of the Lok Sabha also expressed similar anxiety about the way Parliament proceedings were being disrupted.

A strange kind of sullen mood  descended  as the members came out into the lobbies and then moved to the Central Hall. There was, however, little evidence of guilt about what they were doing to Parliament.

If those who think that they have scored a great victory by not letting Parliament function even for a single day in the winter session ought to introspect on what they are trying to achieve. Disruption can be self-satisfying, possibly a good visual on the TV channels, but sober people among the opposition parties must know that such victories may at best turn out to be pyrrhic in nature and not worth their while for the effort.

Whatever, the seriousness of the issues, no political party, — ruling or in the opposition — will stand to gain if Parliament is wrecked from within.  The way things are going there is a danger to Parliament and the form of democracy it has come to represent.  Political parties themselves, whichever side of the House they sit, will themselves stand to lose. Who gains, if everyone loses?

No one can underestimate the seriousness of the issue of corruption and the  2G scam. They need to be fully probed and the guilty severely punished.  The government owes it to the nation that it will do so at the earliest.

But by using the scam for making   Parliament  dysfunctional, the opposition,  led by the BJP and AIADMK and joined by the CPM,  is not serving the cause. Whatever they do outside protest in Parliament has its limits.

Parliament has provided for ways allowing   the opposition to  force the government give all the information it wants on the 2G scam. The Public Accounts Committee, which is headed by a BJP leader Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, is already at work following the CAG’s  report  on the 2G licences.  The scope of the PAC”s inquiry can be easily widened. And now we find  senior BJP leaders faulting Dr Joshi for not going slow when the party is agitating for a Joint Parliamentary Committee.

Previous experiments with JPCs  have not been fruitful. They consume time.  May be the BJP wants to stretch the exercise for a couple of years to place the entire UPA government in the dock and whip up a pre-election campaign.  To the BJP the process is perhaps more important than the outcome.

The Opposition could easily move a no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha  to challenge the government’s continuance in office on the 2G   scam,  but apparently it does not suit its political convenience.

The Supreme Court is also seized of the question, and so has been the CBI.  As the CBI’s credibility has often been questioned its investigation of the 2G scam placed under the supervision by the Supreme Court as also the  PAC’s probe, should have satisfied the Opposition.

How Parliament is being prevented from doing its duty to the people for whom it is meant will not  help it retain the respect of the electors. It is the respect of the people which ultimately lends legitimacy to a constitutional institution.

As the Chairman,  Mr Hamid Ansari, in his valedictory remarks noted with  anguish that no discussion on a matter of public interest took place, no special mention about the problems of the people was made, and not a single question was allowed to be answered in the question hour, which makes the ministers more accountable.

In a way, Parliament’s   authority flows  from its power to sanction money to the government and monitor how it is spent.  In the winter session it passed four Appropriation Bills sanctioning money worth thousands of crore of rupees amidst the ruckus and without a wee bit of scrutiny.  This is a serious lapse on the part of Parliament as an institution and decidedly a disservice to the people.

We project our democracy as India’s unique selling proposition and disruptions in the past as also the stalemate in the winter session, , are not going to be a great advertisement for our brand of democracy.

Successful running of Parliament will require patience, tolerance of the opponents’ view, a give-and-take approach , readiness to look for a way-out of the serious situations that are natural to a vibrant democracy.

It would also require readiness on the part of the leaders of all parties to reach a consensus on issues and the working of the institutions vital for the survival of the country’s democratic dispensation. Parliament is certainly one of them. Let the leaders of the parties sit together and come to an agreement that whatever the seriousness of the issues that may come to the fore, they will not let Parliament become a casualty of politics.

Another Republic Day is coming close. Let it not be said that our decision to opt for parliamentary democracy 61 years ago was  flawed.  Our Constitution was conceived in hope, but if we are not able to work it the fault will lie with men, not with the Constitution and all it encompasses – its values, principles and the democratic spirit. Let’s not fail the Constitution or the country.

– The Asian Age, December 31st, 2010