Can Lokpal be investigator, prosecutor, jury and judge?
DHANANJAY MAHAPATRA / TIMES OF INDIA
Just 70 days ago, the UPA government succumbed to the pressure exerted by Team Anna, which posed as civil society being supported by advocates and actors, ex-babus, bloggers and twitteratti, swamis and social activists. The high decibel show at Jantar Mantar numbed the government’s political and constitutional thinking. Foxed by the red herring of Team Anna’s popularity, the Manmohan Singh government quickly agreed for a joint committee to draft the Lokpal Bill only to realise that the taste of the pudding is in its eating. Public placating of Team Anna was easy, but translating their exasperating demands into a bill was legally excruciating.
Though the Congress has now stressed that the government will not succumb to Team Anna’s pressures, the draft prepared by both sides, despite their inherent disagreements, has one thing in common. Representatives of both Team Anna and government have perceived more or less a Lokpal who will investigate, prosecute and then change cloaks to stand as jury and judge. This all-rolled-into-one power centre is abhorrent to any democratic system of governance, which gets its legitimacy from a fair system of justice delivery.
Why did the government first succumb to Team Anna, then criticise it and now question its representatives’ character? Does it reflect the vacillating mindset of the two power centres — the PM and the Congress president? Why did ministers rush to discuss with Team Anna on the one hand while on the other, a senior party leader publicly criticised the move? He also went around saying it was time for a young PM?
Manmohan Singh will celebrate his 80th birthday on September 26 next year. Rahul Gandhi will turn 42 in June 2012. Singh has not contested a Lok Sabha election, a victory in which transforms a candidate into a people’s representative. Rahul has won twice from Amethi. It is difficult to judge Singh’s feelings on the vacate-the-chair talk from within Congress circles when he is perceived to be engaged in finding solutions to the most trying situations, both political and social. But what must be worrying the PM and the entire political class is the confrontational build up between the representatives of people and the ‘civil society’ to garner space in the legislative arena in the name of participatory democracy.
Can self-proclaimed representatives of civil society be recognised as harbingers of new legislative framework when the Constitution recognises only the Parliament and Assemblies as law-makers? In the early 1970s, the famous Keshavananda Bharati case was argued before a 11-judge bench of the Supreme Court on Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution. The Indira Gandhi government had argued that a political party enjoying two-thirds support in both Houses of Parliament could delete all provisions.
The bench’s shock and dismay forced the government to mould its arguments, “Though legally, there is no limitation to the amending power, there are bound to be political compulsions which make it impermissible for Parliament to exercise its amending power in a manner unacceptable to the people at large.” The apex court in Keshavananda case [1973 (4) SCC 225] said, “The strength of political reaction is uncertain. It depends upon various factors such as political consciousness of people, their level of education, strength of political organisation in the country, the manner in which mass media is used and finally, the capacity of the government to suppress agitation.
“Hence, people’s will to resist an unwanted amendment cannot be taken into consideration in interpreting the ambit of the amending power. Extra-legal forces work in a different plane.” The SC refused to accept the argument saying it was difficult to fathom the depth and weight of people’s wish when it came to change in law. In the present context, people are exasperated by the level of corruption, but is it their wish to have a all-in-one Lokpal? Are extra-legal forces true reflectors of the people’s wish and will?
- Prime Minister should be out of Lokpal till he demits office: Sibal (thehindu.com)
- Don’t succumb to civil society’s pressure tactics, CWC tells Centre (hindu.com)
- Civil society won’t be involved in future for drafting law: Sibal (hindu.com)
- Lokpal: no consensus on fundamental issues (hindu.com)
- “Anna Hazare softens stand on Lokpal Bill” and related posts (asianetindia.com)
- Keep PM, higher judiciary out of Lokpal: ex-CJI (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- congress days are over (mbhagawat.wordpress.com)
- Govts Lokpal Bill Vs Jan Lokpal Bill: Comparative Chart (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Is the government serious about dealing with corruption? (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Bring the farce to an end: Nariman (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- History of deception (indialawyers.wordpress.com)