While a strengthened Lokayukta (Uttarakhand was one of the few states with a preexisting board) is welcome, the transparently electoral compulsions behind the push for the bill at the tail end of the government’s five year term has overshadowed its introduction.
Since the passage of the Lokayukta Act in the Uttarakhand state assembly in November, Anna Hazare and his colleagues have backed away, and in moments of political lucidity, repudiated the BJP’s attempts to garner support in the bill’s name for the upcoming elections, realizing rather belatedly that such cynical use of the corruption issue would carry enormous risk. Despite claiming the bill as a test case for the nation, its play in state politics has been blunted by the complaints of long-standing anti-corruption forces who warned Anna and his aides about the partisan perfidy afoot.
This has proven to be especially true in the case of Uttarakhand that was the first state to pass a bill to Team Anna’s liking. Despite its triumphal introduction, the passage of the act has been seen in some quarters as the last desperate attempt of the BJP to recapture popularity that has steadily dwindled over the length of its entire term in office. Indeed, the BJP government has been widely perceived as having reached new heights in corruption, an embarrassing record only confirmed by the replacement of the chief minister a scant four months before elections. While the new/old CM B.C. Khanduri has enjoyed a relatively clean record, his cabinet and government remained more or less the same, leading to charges that only the bottles had changed while the bitter wine remained the same.
Moreover, due to the haste of the Khanduri government to get the act passed before the election, some potentially troublesome typos and provisions were included in the bill that will have to be rectified in time. As Hazare confidante Arvind Kejriwal himself noted, the Uttarakhand Lokayukta Act was a “cut-and-paste” job of their own proposed Jan Lokayukta Bill, failing even to replace the names of central institutions with their state counterparts.
Indeed, if the Team Anna were to be tied too closely to a losing partner, chances for the Lokayukta’s passage elsewhere would be dashed and Anna Hazare’s own reputation would suffer irrevocable damage. Sensing this, Hazare and his aides have called off targeting the Congress in the state elections in favour of an awareness raising tour. It also seems they have sensed the declining fortunes of their movement that was built up by a voracious media that has now moved on to other things, not unlike the tragifarce presented in Peepli Live. Due to these factors they may have to pursue new strategies in the near future so as not to fade away or be trapped in the labyrinth of politics as usual.