People determined to root out corruption
by Justice Rajindar Sachar (retd) IN THE TRIBUNE
AS expected, the government and Anna Hazare’s team have disagreed on vital points relating to the institution of Lokpal. The question of inclusion of Prime Minister within the ambit of the Lokpal is being falsely blown out of proportion by government apologists. The Prime Minister, though head of the government, is only the first among equals. In a democratic country, a political vacuum does not arise as the Cabinet has a collective responsibility. Also, our past experience does not show that all our Prime Ministers have been angels. Serious credible accusations have been made against them. The regret always was that in the absence of an independent mechanism like the Lokpal to enquire into these allegations, the ruling party was able to successfully scuttle any honest independent enquiry.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has in public consented to being included within the jurisdiction of the Lokpal as had his predecessor A.B. Vajpayee — the supposed concern of the ministers is puerile, being more loyal than the king.
The stand of ministers for the exclusion of Prime Minister is so incongruous when it is noted that the Standing Committee on Law and Justice, headed by Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan, has said that the Bill should cover Prime Minister also.
This cynicism is increased when we find that Mr Digvijy Singh, the self- proclaimed alter ego of Mr Rahul Gandhi, supports the Lokpal having jurisdiction over the Prime Minister — people are legitimately hoping that Mr Gandhi would also indicate his position on a matter which is causing such a division in society.
The suggestion to exclude the Prime Minister is sought to be justified by ministers by taking the puerile plea that the Prime Minister continues to be under the jurisdiction of the Prevention of Corruption Act. It is surprising that ministers are comfortable for the Prime Minister being prosecuted at the report of junior police officials but not at the instance of a high-powered body like the Lokpal. Is this not the unspoken premise that under the Corruption Act the CBI will have to get sanction from the government? But which subordinate will dare to sanction the Prime Minister’s prosecution? For heaven’s sake, do not play joke with the people and be reminded of what John Adams, one of the founding fathers of the US Constitution, said, “The people have a right, an inalienable, indisputable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge — I mean, of the character and conduct of their rulers.”
Another laughable justification by ministers is that the exemption will not be applicable after the Prime Minister has remitted office — this is like locking the stable after the horses have run away. Incidentally, even the discredited toothless draft Lokpal Bill, 2010, included the Prime Minister and members of Parliament.
The inclusion of the higher judiciary consisting of judges of the Supreme Court within the purview of the Lokpal is undesirable. I am conscious of the shame that some in the higher judiciary have polluted the institution. I am only suggesting a separate National Judicial and Accountability Commission. Call it the Lokpal (Judicial) Commission with the same powers as the Lokpal. This will serve the purpose and still keep the distance between the executive and the judiciary as mandated by the Constitution.
The rhetoric of Mr Kapil Sibal challenging anyone to give an example that “which PM in office anywhere has been prosecuted in the world”, I am sorry at this ignorance. Possibly, this is due to Mr Sibal not being assisted by his usually competent juniors who were with him when he was appearing in courts. Now, possibly, he is being ill served by his public relations officer — otherwise he would have been told that the present Prime Minister of Italy is being prosecuted before a magistrate on charges of corruption, having mafia links and deviant sexual behaviour. In France, proceedings were started against the then President Chirac for misappropriation of public money. Also in Israel, a former President has been sentenced to imprisonment for his deviant sexual behaviour by a magistrate.
The near contempt of the masses protesting at the scourge of corruption is shown by Mr Sibal comparing Anna Hazare to “Pied Piper of Hamlin”. Mr Sibal cautiously did not complete the story because those who were said to have followed the Pied Piper were rats, and following the Piper they just drowned in the sea. I need not comment on such crude and insulting comparison of the masses who are waging a struggle against corruption.
The government’s spurious claim by purporting to project Parliament as the real sovereign is fallacious. Dicey, the British constitutional authority, says, “Electorate is, in fact, the sovereign of England and the conduct of the legislature… should be regulated by understandings of which the object is to secure the conformity of Parliament to the will of the nation.”
Another heresy put forth against the holding of protest meetings by people to force the government to pass worthwhile legislation is that it is undemocratic and the only resort people have is to try to persuade the legislators to pass a particular law, and if they do not agree, then they should try their chance during elections. This is sheer heresy and negated by the Supreme Court (1960) in Dr Lohia’s case, who was arrested for asking farmers not to pay the increase in canal water rates to the UP government.
Ordering the release of Dr Lohia, the court said, “We cannot accept the argument of the learned Advocate-General that instigation of a single individual not to pay tax or dues is a spark which may in the long run ignite a revolutionary movement destroying public order. We can only say that fundamental rights cannot be controlled on such hypothetical and imaginary considerations. It is said that in a democratic set-up there is no scope for agitational approach and that if a law is bad the only course is to get it modified by democratic process and that any instigation to break the law is in itself a disturbance of the public order. If this argument without obvious limitations be accepted, it would destroy the right to freedom of speech, which is the very foundation of democratic way of life.”
A restrained approach by the government alone can prevent a collision with the masses, who are determined to vigorously pursue their struggle for an effective Lokpal.
The writer is a former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court.
- Lokpal bill and the Prime Minister (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
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- Prime Minister should be out of Lokpal till he demits office: Sibal (thehindu.com)
- Is the government serious about dealing with corruption? (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Govts Lokpal Bill Vs Jan Lokpal Bill: Comparative Chart (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- History of deception (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- CWC to discuss Lokpal Bill today (hindu.com)
- “I am not a ‘lame-duck’ Prime Minister” (hindu.com)
- Government presents its draft Lokpal Bill (hindu.com)
- Government draft on Lokpal Bill excludes PM (hindu.com)