The government of India has recently been hit by a string of high-profile and ugly corruption scandals and this has raised heated debate over a strong anti-corruption bill. A group of members of civil society led by anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare have declared all-out war on the government over each other’s version of the anti-corruption Citizen's Ombudsman bill. The government’s Lokpal bill, tabled in parliament in this year’s monsoon session has been strongly criticised by Anna Hazare and his civil society representatives as toothless. Anna Hazare has gone on an indefinite hunger strike: he wants his version of the anti-corruption bill to be placed before parliament.
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Anna Hazare and his team, referring to the government’s bill as a "jokepal" bill, say that it is too weak to fight corruption and humiliates the Indian people. The main point of disagreement is on the question of the inclusion of the Prime Minister and senior judiciary within the ambit of the proposed Lokpal bill. Anna Hazare's group wants them included.
Under the present system, the prime minister can only be investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Anna Hazare's group argues that the CBI cannot be relied upon to carry out an impartial investigation against the Prime Minister as it works directly under him. The government responds by arguing that any inquiry against the Prime Minister could affect the wider credibility of the nation.
At the moment, judges can only be investigated by fellow judges. Team Anna has revealed that the Chief Justice of India has given permission to register a first information report (FIR) against sitting judges only in two cases in the past 20 years. The government wants allegations of corruption against judges investigated under the proposed Judicial Accountability Bill.
The government and team Anna are also divided on other grounds. The government says the ombudsman should investigate only senior officials for corruption, and not federal government officials. Team Anna wants both high and low ranking officials, to be investigated. They seek an autonomous ombudsman in every state. The government says states are already empowered to create their own ombudsmen. They want the ombudsman to have powers to investigate MPs accused of taking bribes to vote or ask questions in the parliament. The government says that only parliamentarians can carry out such investigations in the parliament.
Anna Hazare will go to any lengths to fight corruption. The government accuses team Anna of undermining parliamentary democracy.
The illegitimate detention of Anna Hazare a few hours before he began his hunger strike in support of stronger anti-corruption provisions in the Lokpal [Ombudsman] Bill attracted strong criticisms of the government from opposition parties, the media and the public. Anna Hazare’s arrest and his subsequent release have ignited a further robust debate on the Indian government’s mishandling of the issue.
Anna Hazare’s hunger strike has garnered huge public support for the movement. There is a growing popular mood against corruption across the country. The credibility of the government is eroding. In all this, Anna Hazare claims that he uses the Gandhian method of protest. However, Mahatma Gandhi's great grandson, Tushar Gandhi argues that there is a difference in the way the Father of the Nation compared to the contemporary social activist have used fasting as a form of protest. "Hazare's fast is different because Bapu's (Mahatma Gandhi's) fast was to reform an adversary into a friend, while Anna's (Anna Hazare’s) fast is against an enemy. It is a ‘me versus you’ kind of thing," Tushar Gandhi said.
But Anna Hazare refuses to budge from his position. The government is similarly intransigent. Both make the fight against corruption a partisan issue when both should be focusing on the larger context. A Lokpal (Citizen's Ombudsman) bill is never be enough to fight corruption without also looking more deeply into the structural context of corruption. India's capitalist economy is driven by competition and the maximization of profit. These capitalists will resort to corruption through bribing to maximize their profit. Both sides should join forces to combat corruption as a deep-structural issue.