In a historic move, India’s parliament has passed the Lokpal bill that will create the institution of an independent ombudsman to look into cases of corruption in government.
The Lok Sabha (lower house) of parliament on Wednesday passed the bill with all political parties, barring one, cooperating on the issue. The regional Samajwadi party, an ally of the ruling coalition, walked out in protest.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi who took the initiatve from his party on the bill was quoted as saying, "It is our responsibility to complete our unfinished fight against corruption."
The Lokpal bill is the outcome of a ferocious anti-corruption movement that erupted across the country in 2011 led by the aging icon Anna Hazare.
Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushma Swaraj was quoted as saying, "People are lining up to take credit, but there is an old man (Anna Hazare) who keeps fasting for the bill and appeals to our collective conscience. And then the people of this country deserve credit."
The bill, which was sought to be pushed into cold storage by dominant political parties, received a boost following the spectacular victory of the debutant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on an anti-corruption plank in the recent Delhi assembly elections.
The AAP itself was a spinoff from the anti-corruption movement.
The Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) saw the surge of support to the anti-corruption movement and decided to combine in parliament and ensure the passage of the bill. They did not want to be seen on the wrong side of people’s sentiments considering that national elections are just a few months away.
Hazare, who had been on an indefinite fast demanding passage of the bill, ended his nine-day fast after the Lok Sabha passed the bill. Concern for his health was another reason for political parties to push through the bill in parliament.
The Lokpal bill will result in the creation of an autonomous federal entity headed by an independent ombudsman who will look into accusations of corruption in government. There will be similar anti-corruption bodies, the Lokayuktas, in all states.
Already, there are Lokayuktas in several states. The bill will ensure the setting up of the entities in the other states.
What makes the big difference with the Lokpal is that the premier Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) can be called by it to inquire into allegations of corruption. Even the prime minister is not exempt from its purview.
Though a couple of technical issues could dilute the bill, such as the CBI not being completely autonomous, overall the Lokpal is seen as an institution with punitive potential.
The AAP has expressed dissatisfaction with the current format of the Lokpal bill while its mentor, Hazare, is happy with it.
On Tuesday, supporters of Hazare celebrated in his home town of Ralegan Sidhi in western Maharashtra after the Rajya Sabha passed the bill.