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SEEMA MUSTAFA

Seema Mustafa is the former Political Editor and Delhi Bureau Chief of The Asian Age newspaper.

First probe the ministers, and then the activists

Lokpal Bill drafting committee co-chairman Shanti Bhushan (R) with members Anna Hazare (C), and Arvind Kejriwal during the first meeting of the panel at North Block in New Delhi.

he Congress government seems to be really perturbed about a few civil society members who decided to challenge the ruling elite on the issue of corruption. The country was ignited and thousands poured out on the streets in solidarity and support of the fasting Gandhian Anna Hazare and his civil society group.

Since then all hell has broken loose and while no questions are being raised about the finances of the Union ministers sitting on the Lokpal Bill drafting committee, each member of the civil society group is being pulled through the scanner in what is clearly a high intensity "smear" campaign being led by Messrs Digvijay Singh and Amar Singh. The last was, of course, playing a key role in helping push the nuclear agreement through Parliament, after a similar slander campaign against those opposing the deal with the United States.

The targets are the two lawyers, Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan. First it was a CD alleging a conversation that does not seem to have ever taken place, with an independent non government forensic laboratory making it clear that the CD was a fake. Unfortunately, just as the Department of Atomic Energy had been pitted against the nuclear scientists opposing the nuclear agreement, this time the "government" forensic laboratory has been made to come out with a statement contradicting the other lab, and insisting that the CD was genuine. The intention here is not to establish the right or the wrong, but to create confusion in the minds of the people and split the formidable constituency that had supported Hazare during the fast.

One would have thought that on corruption at least a government that had nothing to hide would take on the mantle from the small civil society group, and lead the charge against the scamsters across the country. But clearly nothing of the kind is intended, and instead the messengers daring to challenge the system are being systematically attacked in a campaign that is being supported by sections of the media, and of course the fickle elite intelligentsia that often has difficulty in knowing its own mind.

It is no secret that the finance sheets of the civil society members on the drafting committee have been put through heavy scrutiny. At the end of the day, all that the government found was two pieces of property of which one they say was bought fraudulently, and the other allotted out of turn. That's it. And both the senior advocates, Shanti and Prashant Bhushan have explained this, even insisting that an independent probe should be ordered to verify their claims. So why does not the government — particularly now that Digvijay Singh is so perturbed — order an independent enquiry and settle the issue once and for all? But it will not because the intention is not to clear the air, but to hound those who have been agitating against corruption and have finally managed to make a dent.

But the probe should cover the Union ministers on the drafting committee as well, as many might have real estate of enormous value not just in Allahabad or Noida, but in the big cities of India and abroad. And once this is established, perhaps the enquiry can be extended to cover the ruling party, its allies, and then members of the Opposition, corporate honchos, judges, and of course proprietors and journalists in top positions. And perhaps this probe might find what we all know, that corruption has crossed all limits, and the people of India are being looted by those who claim to be protecting and representing the nation.

And then, perhaps the government will quietly sit down to amend the pathetic Lokpal Bill and ensure a legislation that is comprehensive, and has the teeth to ensure at least a higher level of accountability and transparency. For after all the current hysteria is only about this....a bad, weak, diluted Bill against a strong legislation that plugs the loopholes to a point where finally the corrupt will be made accountable regardless of race, caste or creed or even more importantly, position.

Of course there will be no such probe. As there will be no Lokpal Bill. The government is working hard to ensure this. But if somehow the civil society members in the drafting committee weather the smear campaign, and stay on, then the Bill will not pass Parliament, as the government will get sufficient support to ensure that the legislation dies even if it's born.

 
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