Indian president Pranab Mukherjee has signed into law the Lokpal Bill, a landmark piece of anti-graft legislation two years in the making. The bill, aimed to combat the country’s rampant political corruption, will create a watchdog with the authority to investigate instances of corruption and prosecute guilty public officials.
The legislation comes after two years of activism and debate, and is strengthened by the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) recent election to state government in Dehli. The AAP ran on a platform that promised to eradicate political corruption, and its leader, Arvind Kejriwal, has been a pioneer in the growing anti-graft movement.
Although the passing of this law is a crucial step forward for India, there have been questions regarding the legislation’s ability to bring about real change in the fight against political corruption. The fact that Dehli’s Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) has already received over 4,000 complaints and does not have the staff to address them is a troubling start to the country’s anti-graft efforts. The ACB have forwarded many of the complaints to the Chief Vigilance Officers of the appropriate departments in an effort to ease the burden, but all of the cases are still pending.
Clearly, the sheer scope of the country’s corruption problem is not properly addressed by the Lokpal Bill, and there is not yet the infrastructure in place to adequately deal with the staggering number of ethical violations occurring within various public offices.
The fragmented political landscape in India further hampers these efforts. Not only was the divided nature of national congress the main reason for delaying the Lokpal Bill’s implementation in the first place, but it would appear as though only the impending general elections encouraged various parties in congress to pay closer attention to the increasing grassroots anti-corruption movement. The movement was recently lent further legitimacy by the AAP’s election in Dehli and most parties do not want to appear in opposition to it for fear of alienating voters. The AAP has made it clear that it plans to launch a campaign for election to national legislature on the heels of its state victory, but many are suggesting that the young party does not have the organizational capacity for a successful bid.
As long as Indian congress remains divided, it is unlikely that the necessary resources will be allocated to anti-graft efforts in the country. Staff shortages in the ACB, coupled with a seeming lack of interest on the part of Chief Vigilance Officers to resolve corruption complaints points to a system which is already in need of significant help. The passing of the Lokpal Bill appears to be a political move to increase chances of re-election for many parties, and this suggests that the further work that is needed to improve the ACB will be mired in the same divided debate that the bill itself was subject to for over two years. With the AAP looking like a long shot for a spot in the national legislature, it is easy to be pessimistic about the chances of real change occurring. As long as conflicting political interests overshadow the push for anti-corruption reform, it appears as though the path to meaningful change will be a long one.
And what about protections for the whistleblowers? Much more work is needed.
“AAP’s Anti-Graft Promise Difficult Goal to Achieve: American Scholar” The New Indian Express, Jan. 7, 2014.
“India Passes ‘Historic’ Anti-Graft Bil” Aljazeera, Dec. 18, 2013.
“Anti-Graft Team Briefs CM: 4,000 Complaints Against Government Officials” The Indian Express, Jan. 7, 2014.