December 19, 2013
The Lokpal, which was the centre of focus in Parliament, may be projected as a corruption killer; but the Lokpal Bill has been a government killer. The history of the Lokpal journey in India over the last several decades has established the fact that it is a government killer. This is brought out in my book, Corruption – India’s Painful Crawl to Lokpal, published earlier this year by Strategic Books, USA. But, first the background.
The First Administrative Commission, chaired by Morarji Desai proposed, in mid-1960s, the establishment of Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayuktas in the States on the lines of Ombudsmen functioning in Scandinavian countries. The switch from Ombudsman to Lokpal has an interesting background. In the thick of debates in Parliament in 2011, going into the background of Lokpal, the Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, recalled that it was the then independent MP, L M Singhvi, who had coined the term ‘Lokpal’ way back in 1963. Singhvi was prompted by the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, inquiring which zoo the new animal (Ombudsman) came from. Now the painful crawl of the Lokpal Bill and how it killed governments along its unfinished journey.
The first Lokpal Bill was introduced in 1968 which lapsed with the dissolution of Lok Sabha. The Bill was introduced seven more times in Parliament, the last but one time in 2001. It lapsed each time, except in 1985 when it was withdrawn. In India certain events and places are considered as jinxed and are linked to the stability or otherwise of the governments and their heads. For instance, in Karnataka, a certain district town is avoided by Chief Ministers for fear of their government falling. A similar phobia seems to have worked in the case of Lokpal Bill over a period of 33 years between 1968 and 2001.
Tracing this, Anita Saluja, a senior journalist, in an article titled “Will Lokpal Jinx get UPA Out?” in The New Indian Express (August 30, 2011) wrote: “The BJP is mighty pleased with itself for having helped convince Anna Hazare to break his fast and end the impasse on the issue of the Lokpal, as they believe it has political gains for them in more ways than one. The party is convinced that the Congress-led UPA government is doomed in the next Lok Sabha elections – a belief based on past trends that shows that whichever government had introduced the Lokpal legislation in Parliament has not been voted back to power for a second consecutive term.”
The Lokpal Bill certainly seems to be a jinxed piece of legislation. It was introduced eight times in the past, and each time the government of the day was faced with umpteen problems. What is more, those governments were either short-lived or were not voted back to power in the next elections. The Bill was first introduced on May 1, 1968 by the then Home Minister, Y B Chavan. On august 20, 1969, the Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha, but thereafter, the fourth Lok Sabha was dissolved, following a split in the ruling Congress.
The second time the Lokpal Bill was introduced by Ram Nivas Mirdha of the Congress on august 2, 1971. But it seemed to bring bad luck to the government. First it was the Bangladesh war and, later the political crisis led by Jayaprakash Narayan Movement. It finally led to the imposition of Emergency by Indira Gandhi after which Congress lost the election to Janata Party, following the popular wave in favour of Jayaprakash Narayan.
The Lokpal Bill jinx seemed to continue for the Janata Party government as well. When Charan Singh as Home Minister introduced the Bull on July 23, 1977,the Lok Sabha was again dissolved. Later, when Congress came to power, Ashoke Sen introduced the Bill on August 25,1985. The then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, did his bit to impress the aam aadmi with his historic Congress Centenary speech in December 1985, attacking the power brokers; but failed to convince the electorate to vote for his government in the following election in 1989 after being hit by the Bofors allegations.
The succeeding V P Singh-led National Front government, which made an attempt at bringing in the legislation on December 21, 1989, and the H D Deve Gowda-led United Front government, which introduced the Lokpal Bill on September 10, 1996, also could not complete their terms and collapsed midway. When it came to NDA’s turn, --it introduce the Bill on July 23, 1998 – the fortunes were no different. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee lost his government by just one vote, though the NDA did manage to come back to power. But the curse of the Bill continued to haunt it when the legislation was introduced again on July 9, 2001. In the following election, it was out of power.
The Congress-led UPA government did not introduce the Bill in its first tenure and survived the entire term. But, having introduced the Lokpal Bill on August 4, 2011, it seems to have sealed its fate of ruling for the full term. Referring to the adjournment of Rajya Sabha without passing the Lokpal Bill on the midnight of December 29, 2011, NDTV reported: “The Lokpal Bill has always appeared to be a jinxed affair, the history of last 40 years shows. With the Rajya Sabha adjourned sine die at midnight amid uproar without passing the
Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 2011,even after day-long debate, it has once again shown that it was so.”
Now that the Lokayukta has been deleted from the latest Bill, the jinx may have been aborted. Yet, with the Telengana sword of Democles hanging over its neck – with so many MPs waving their resignation letters in the air and allies waiting to jump off a sinking ship - the killer reputation of Lokpal Bill may still survive.
John B Monteiro’s book, Corruption – India’s Painful Crawl to Lokpal, priced at $ 21.5, is widely available from online sellers like Amazon and locally in Mangalore at Biblios, Bunts Hostel Road.