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28 June, 2011

Consultation is the quintessence of democracy, says AHRC

The following is a statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission:

The recent statement by the Human Resource Development Minister, Mr. Kapil Sibal, expressing concern over the process of wider consultation in the drafting of the anti-corruption law, the Lokpal Bill, calls for reflection and debate. The Minister has said that the government would not in the future consider involving the civil society for drafting legislations. The Minister's view against a wider consultative process also found support within the Congress Working Committee (CWC. The CWC in a meeting held on 24 July has said that the government felt as if it was held at ransom by a section of the civil society in the country concerning the Lokpal Bill. Not surprisingly other political parties in the country also hold a similar view on the issue.

The overwhelming public support the NGO representatives who lead the movement against corruption in India receives indicate how badly the general public sought for a vent to air their opinion against corruption. It is elementary that the general public uses the new platform to speak against manifest forms of corruption, that has reduced the country's government into a quagmire of institutionalised corruption. On a global index, year after year, India shares a shameful position among some of the worst corrupt places in the world. The political parties that held fort in New Delhi and at the state capitals thus far have done nothing decisive to bring a change into this unacceptable status quo. In such a circumstance when someone has come forward seeking the government's intervention to address the issue and that many have willingly joined the call is neither surprising, nor can a government, honest to its constitutional mandate, ignore such a call.

It is understandable that the government feels the pressure. It is commonsense that the pressure felt by the government is just not because some of the leading public figures are pushing the government to act sensibly, but because there is an unprecedented mass appeal for the call to act against corruption which translates into votes if it is construed within a myopic vision of vote-bank politics, which unfortunately many Indian political parties are only capable of today. To look at the mass support that the movement against corruption has garnished as mere 'holding a government at ransom' is an act of deceit which translates into what is being promised is different from what is planed to be implemented.

The most important question of the day is not which offices will come under the scrutiny of the law in the anvil, but to what extent is the government willing to pay heed to public demand. The very notion that the Indian parliament or the bureaucrats that serve the government have better wisdom that the people who elected them is sheer snobbishness, that no government worthy of the constitutional mandate that elected them to power can afford to propose. In fact contrary to what has been said, the procedure that the government was forced to follow regarding the Lokpal Bill is in fact not just the precedent, but the law and it has been the practice. Mr. Kapil Sibal being a lawyer should know that before Bills are tabled in the parliament, the respective ministry that sponsores the Bill calls for public opinions about the proposed law. It is just that in the past occasions the public were not been properly informed of such process or they did not have a vehicle to carry their opinions to the legislature than through their representatives in the parliament. Concerning the Lokpal Bill, they had an organised civil society that played this role, rather effectively. It is not surprising that the persons who pushed the same government to bring about a law that guarantees a right to be informed are also behind the Lokpal Bill.

But for the government to view this participatory approach as unacceptable implies that many in India, at least some politicians and parliamentarians, are yet to understand and appreciate what true democracy implies.

As the old Japanese proverb goes, when important decisions are made, it is better to form it after wide consultations. The process is not Western, as some members of the Bharatiya Janata Party has said seizing the opportunity to attack the president of the Indian National Congress. Administration through consultation is very much Asian. In that, the procedure the civil society has forced the government to follow thus far concerning the Lokpal Bill is the quintessence of democracy.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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