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    Posted on 04 January 2012
    OPINION  
    DIALOGUE
    Suhas Chakma

    The limits of public discourse

    Suhas Chakma on New Delhi’s treatment of Mamata Banerjee and team Anna, two forces it has not been able to control or compromise with in a year of discontent

    Photo: Pintu Pradhan


    BOTH THE UPA government’s attempts to pass the Lokpal Bill and Team Anna’s attempts to exert pressure on the government have ended in a damp squib. While Team Anna failed to recognise the limits of exerting public pressure through such loose non-political alliances, the UPA government was undone not by the opposition NDA but its ally the Trinamool Congress (TMC). Eyebrows have been raised and Banerjee’s unpredictability has been blamed. Such simplistic views do not explain the phenomenon called Mamata Banerjee. The TMC’s opposition to the Lokpal Bill has as much to do with federalism as it has to do with the future of the TMC. Banerjee is acutely aware that the TMC’s ascendency to Writers Building was helped by CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat’s withdrawal of support to the UPA1 government on the Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation. Had the CPI(M) not withdrawn support, Banerjee might have found it tough to win. For, the Congress high command has always been willing to leave West Bengal to the CPI(M) for the sake of power in New Delhi. Banerjee had quit the Congress to form the TMC on that ground alone. If opportunity arises, the Congress could again leave Bengal to the Left to remain in power at the centre. Not surprisingly, the TMC has been treating the Congress in West Bengal as the main opposition. So much so that the Congress had to raise objections when Abhijit Mukherjee, son of Pranab Mukherjee, was appointed chair of the West Bengal Industrial Development Finance Corporation. The Congress considered such appointments cooption. Congress MPs Deepa Dasmunshi and Mausam Benazir Noor have been leading the campaign against Banerjee but their appeal beyond their constituencies is suspect. While the battlelines between the TMC and the Congress will be drawn on seatsharing in the next parliamentary election, the TMC will continue to consolidate its base and follow anti-Left policies. This makes the TMC more Leftist than the Left, as can be seen it’s the TMC’s opposition to fdi in retail and aviation and the Pension Bill. The Left has become a shadow of the TMC since the days of Singur and Nandigram and it is not likely to get better for UPA2. Banerjee plays the Left tune to the hilt and assuages Bengal’s sentiment, pride and interest. The refusal to toe New Delhi’s line on the Teesta water sharing agreement with Bangladesh is a case in point. For UPA2, the Lokpal Bill appears to have reached a dead end. Union home minister P Chidambaram stated that only two or three amendments to the bill are possible. That is unlikely to placate the TMC, which opposes the bill as much as the CPI(M) does.

    TEAM ANNA has no strategy to deal with Banerjee and continues to focus on the union government. They appeared too obstinate by pushing the Jan Lokpal Bill as the only acceptable one. While citizens have a right to protest and pressurise public representatives and the government, dictating terms to parliament remains unacceptable to a majority of Indians. Putting all politicians in the same basket has been the most serious mistake of Team Anna. While the debate on the Lokpal Bill would continue, corruption or any malaise cannot be addressed unless two fundamental problems that plague the constitutional and statutory bodies of India are squarely addressed. First, the requirement of prior sanction for prosecution of public servants – whether accused of rape or corruption – has been the single most important factor for India’s malaises. Prior sanction is needed under the Prevention of Corruption Act and under Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code since 1997. The prior sanction makes the judiciary subservient to the executive. It is for the judiciary to decide on prosecution based on facts and merits, and not for the executive. The Lokpal Bill did not address the need for balance between the need for protection of official duty and acts done on good faith, and the need to ensure supremacy of the judiciary to decide on cases. Second, constitutional and statutory bodies suffer from serious shortcomings with selection of the chair and its members, which make these bodies ineffective. The Lokpal Bill is an improvement of existing procedures as Section 3(4) and Section 9 of the bill address the conflict of interest prior to appointment and on ceasing to hold office. These measures are progressive but insufficient. As PC Thomas’ appointment as CVC showed, the problem was not with selection panel but with the concealment of information from the selection panel. The Supreme Court held the appointment of Thomas as non-est in law but failed to provide the remedy. Unless the selection of candidates is confirmed through public hearings as done in the US, inclusion of the Chief Justice of India as a member of the Lokpal Selection Panel would not help. India does not appear to be ready for public hearings on appointments but we need mechanisms where information on candidates for constitutional and statutory bodes will be displayed in public and made available to the panel. If the Lokpal Bill addresses these two concerns along with issues connected to federalism, it would go a long way in solidifying Indian democracy.

    Suhas Chakma is the director of the New Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights.
    [email protected]


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    Posted on 04 January 2012
 

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