The anti-corruption movement spearheaded by Arvind Kejriwal and others aggressively, and somewhat naively, advocated Janlokpal as a panacea for all governance ills. Moreover, Kejriwal and his comrades adopted a maximalist position that did not reckon with Constitutional and systemic constraints as seen in their adamant refusal to budge an inch in negotiations with the then government. The movement, which vehemently opposed mainstream political parties, later morphed into the Aam Aadmi Party and fought elections to the Delhi Assembly twice with Lokpal as one of its main promises. After riding to power, the party, which was taunted by its rivals about its Lokpal promise, has now finally introduced the Delhi Janlokpal Bill in the Assembly.
Former AAP leader and lawyer Prashant Bhushan accused Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal of betraying the anti-graft movement by introducing a bill, which he alleged, was worse than the Union Government’s Lokpal legislation. Pointing to the clauses relating to the selection process and removal of the ombudsman by the Assembly and not by courts and presidential sanction as envisaged in the anti-corruption movement’s draft bill, he contended that it would weaken the institution and make it vulnerable to political pressure. In its defence, the AAP government has cited Supreme Court observations in the Judges Appointment case, which indicates acceptance of systemic realities and a limited retreat from its past maximalist position.
There are other serious and equally, if not more, contentious issues in the Bill. For instance, bringing Union Ministers and functionaries within the ambit of the proposed legislation will surely lead to a confrontation between the AAP government and the Centre. As it is, AAP has been at loggerheads with the Centre over the issue of Statehood for Delhi; and with limited powers, the Delhi government’s initiatives in the recent past have run into legal and administrative obstacles from the office of the Lieutenant Governor, who represents the Central Government. In such a scenario of lack of mutual trust, this debatable Bill too will face hurdles and AAP could use it to score political points. It may make people suspect AAP’s intentions.