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Between the line

Not through Haste
January 06, 2012


At a time when civil society is arguing feverishly over the details of government’s move to set up the Lok Pal (Ombudsman) machinery to deal with corruption, reservation can be dynamite. So let the proposal of such step be analysed carefully. What it means is that out of the 9-members Lok Pal, 50 percent of person will be from the Schedules Castes, Schedules Tribes, women and backward classes. This is the first time since independence when the principle of reservation has been extended to top positions. Tomorrow a similar demand may be made on the appointment of judges in the High Courts and the Supreme Court. This principle, pernicious enough, stops the best talent from the country being chosen for top jobs. Instead, anyone can be brought as long as he or she fulfills the qualification forreservations.

This approach has already forced the country to lower the standard of education and the quality of government service. Yet nothing anybodycan do even to fix the time limit for reservations because any suggestion on the subject creates furor from the interested groups. All political parties are slaved to reservations because they link them with their electoral prospects. The ruling congress has too fixed its eyes on elections in January-March 2012 in five states including UP, Punjab and Uttrakhand. Reservations may influence the dalits who have turned their back on the party.

Yet, something more acrimonious happened when the bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha. Members belonging to Other Backward Classes (OBCs) demanded a quota for Muslims. The government gave in because it also has the Muslim electorate to placate. Although Muslims have been allotted 4.5 per cent from the 27 per cent of reservations provided in the Constitution, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is up in arms and has threatened a civil war if the quota is given to Muslims. On the other hand, the Muslim leaders have demanded the 10 per cent reservations outside the Constitutional provision of 27 per cent. The Supreme Court gave a ruling some time ago that the total reservations cannot exceed 50 per cent. Surprisingly, the Congress has already decided to give Muslims a quota of 4.5 percent in educational institutions and employment. But this decision yet to be implemented and the quota will be from overall reservation of 27 per cent. The quota is probably illegal because the Constitution forbids any reservation on the basis of religion. Cases are pending before the Supreme Court from Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka where a quota has been
given to religious minorities, Muslims and Christians. Legal experts have pronounced that the government’s step to give reservation to religious minorities is unconstitutional. But in the meanwhile the atmosphere of parochialism is affecting different communities and creating an embarrassing situation for civil society. The Congress could not have hit the ethos of pluralism more severely than it has done by introducing reservations in top positions.

This may well be a move to defeat the Lok Pal bill in Parliament because the BJP would never agree to a quota for Muslims. It, along with the left which is against reservation in principle, can defeat the bill in the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House, where the Congress and its allies cannot muster a majority. But the BJP should be prepared to bear the responsibility for not having the bill passed by the end of the year, a demand made by the Gandhian Anna Hazare who is leading a movement for the passage of Lok Pal bill I am unable to make out why the Congress withdrew its support at the last minute to the draft bill which had got the near consensus at the all-party meeting at the Prime Minister residence. The hitch may have been because of the reported opposition by Congress president Sonia Gandhi who has said that they are ready to take on Anna Hazare. The last time it was her son, Rahul Gandhi, who had diluted the bill
finalised by the Parliament Standing Committee. Its Chairman Abhishek Manu Singhvi has admitted that he met the Congress high command on the eve of the bill’s finalisation.

The government has not in fact taken Lok Pal bill demand seriously from the beginning and has not understood how infuriated the civil society is. Even then the bill it has brought before Parliament under pressure gives control of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to the Personnel department at the centre. CBI has been used by the different
government for their political purpose. Retired directors of CBI have written about their experience, how they were asked to move or not to move against such and such person.

Even the appointment of apex body to select persons for the Lok Pal machinery the panel is that of the Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader and the Chief Justice of India. How can the Chief Justice be on the selection committee when the appeal against the wrong or motivated appointment lies with the Chief Justice. It is however good to note that both the government and Anna Hazare have agreed to keep the judiciary out of ambit of Lok Pal. But the appointment of Judicial Commission, sought through a bill, requires more teeth. Also the Commission should have some eminent publicmen as its members. It seems that the bill has been drafted in haste and probably with the purpose that it should fall either in Parliament or in the Court. True, the government has accommodated Anna Hazare on many points but if one were to analyse the provisions it would be clear that what the government gives by one hand takes away by another. Yet I wish the Lokpal bill had the constitutional authority which the BJP has unthinkingly forced to fall in the Lok Sabha for not being able to get the required two-third majority.

Against this backdrop I can understand the pressure by Anna Hazare to pass the bill but I unable to appreciate his fast for 3 days when Parliament had already taken up the bill. In any case he had given the call for jail bharo (fill the jail) from January. His enunciation is to propagate against the Congress in the five states assembly to defeat the party is suspect. This unnecessarily gives strength to the allegation that the whole movement is political and meant to help the
BJP and some other opposition parties.

The country is going through political and economic crises. Any wrong step by government or by civil society can harm the nation and unwittingly support the parochial and desperate elements. I recall the words of US President Jefferson from his inaugural address “Let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as
wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions.” EOM

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