Take your time
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The Lokpal bill has been introduced in the Rajya Sabha at a time when events appear to have sundered apart the lokpal's biggest champions, veteran activist Anna Hazare and new political star and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal. While Hazare is on a fast demanding that the bill go through, Kejriwal's party is pondering its big plunge into government in Delhi. There is still pressure on the House, but not of the kind witnessed a couple of years ago, when the intensity and volume of the Jan Lokpal agitation drowned out any reasonable exchange of views. This time, all parties should weigh each provision of a consequential piece of legislation very carefully. Public corruption needs to be tackled on a variety of fronts — through better tax administration, real estate regulation, strengthening whistleblowers. The lokpal is only one debatable instrument.
Last time, the UPA seemed completely overwhelmed and overtaken, a predicament it had brought on itself by its slow reflexes and inability to make its case. It invited the erstwhile Team Anna to a joint drafting committee, treated them as stand-ins for all civil society, even enlarged their auras to the extent that negotiation became a near-impossibility later. That suggestibility, that readiness to jump when someone more forceful tells it to, has been a UPA failing — whether it is TV anchors dictating foreign policy or social activists scolding it for aspects of its development agenda. This time, all parties must maintain perspective, and ensure that if there is to be a lokpal, it is an entity that serves a purpose and extracts accountability, without upsetting important institutional balances. There have been divergences between parties on crucial questions like the inclusion of the prime minister, the junior bureaucracy and the CBI — and the Lok Sabha discussion aired and partly resolved many of these issues. While a rough consensus has been formed, Parliament must also hear out the individual reservations, and the stand of smaller parties who have expressed legitimate concerns about a new bureaucracy, an unaccountable caucus holding great power over elected officials.