The promise of bringing in an effective law to curb corruption in the top echelons of the State should undoubtedly go down as the biggest hoax played by the political class on the people of India after independence.

Every government, from the days of Jawaharlal Nehru to Mr. Manmohan Singh, has promised to establish an institution which will bring to book corrupt ministers and MPs and reneged on this promise. But, going by the statements of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Ms. Sonia Gandhi after the settlement with Anna Hazare last week, there can be no doubt that the ruling party and the Prime Minister have taken deception to a new level altogether.

The first acknowledgement that the cancer of corruption had begun to destroy the great gains of the freedom movement came in the 1960s when the Santhanam Committee was appointed to assess  the extent of the problem and to suggest remedial action. This was followed by the report of the first  Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC), which recommended the  appointment  of  a Lok Pal to enquire into the conduct of ministers and MPs and Lok Ayuktas with similar powers vis a vis state-level functionaries.

The farce vis-à-vis appointment of a Lok Pal began during Mrs.Indira Gandhi’s Prime Ministership. Her government introduced this Bill in the Lok Sabha in 1968, knowing fully well that a Bill introduced in the Lower House would lapse if the House was dissolved prior to its passage in parliament. Sure enough, the Bill faced sudden death when Mrs.Gandhi opted for early dissolution of the Lok Sabha and a mid-term election in 1971. Since then, eight more half-hearted attempts were made to legislate on this issue in Parliament and on a majority of these occasions, it was the Congress Party that was in power.

After all this humming and hawing for over four decades, the Bill proposed by the Manmohan Singh Government last year with the  tacit approval of the Ms.Sonia Gandhi-led Congress Party, constitutes an affront to the intelligence of  every citizen. Instead of empowering the citizen to complain against corrupt ministers and MPs and arming the Lok Pal to go after the wrong-doers,  the government Bill sought to protect the corrupt in a variety of ways, while simultaneously trying to intimidate complainants.

It said the Lok Pal would only be an advisory body which could forward its report to a competent authority. It would not have any police powers or the power to register an FIR against a corrupt minister or MP. Nor would the CBI, which is the main anti-corruption arm of the Union Government, come within its jurisdiction.

Further, this Lok Pal would have no power to initiate suo moto action or receive complaints of corruption from citizens. It would be empowered to proceed only if  the Speaker of the Lok Sabha or the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha (both political appointees) permitted it to do so. And, after all this the punishment for guilty politicians would be a minimum of six months and a maximum of seven years in jail.

As against this bogus Bill, Anna Hazare’s Jan Lok Pal Bill says the Lok Pal will be an independent body like the Election Commission with suo motu powers to investigate complaints against ministers, MPs, judges  and bureaucrats, to file FIRs and to prosecute the corrupt, and not just an “advisory body” as proposed by Mr.Manmohan Singh and Ms.Sonia Gandhi.

Further, Anna Hazare’s Lok Pal will directly receive complaints from people and act on it without any filters. There is another  major point of difference in the government draft and that of Anna Hazare.

The Prime Minister and Ms.Sonia Gandhi do not want the Lok Pal to have the power to investigate the Prime Minister in regard to decisions taken  in regard to foreign affairs, security matters and defence. Anna Hazare’s draft  makes no such exception and rightly so. Bofors was a defence deal (purchase of field guns) in which Ottavio Quattrochchi, a friend  of Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi  received commission payments from the Swedish company.

Obviously fearing a repeat of  a scandal of such proportions, Mr.Singh and Ms.Gandhi do not want the Lok Pal to investigate defence deals. The Bill is also so cleverly worded  that  everything can be classified as coming within the purview of “security matters” and thus kept out of the Lok Pal’s scrutiny. For example, if we had a Lok Pal last year on the lines proposed by government, the Prime Minister, given his prevarication in regard to probing the 1.76 lakh crores 2G Spectrum Scam, would in all probability have claimed that spectrum was a “security matter” and insisted that this cannot be probed by the Ombudsman.

There are other areas of divergence, which are equally significant. For example, Anna Hazare’s Lok Pal promises to investigate complaints and prosecute the corrupt within two years of the complaint, but the government draft has no such time limit. Even in regard to punishing  the guilty, Mr.Singh and  s.Gandhi prefer to go soft on the culprits. In their draft the jail term for the corrupt is 6 months to 7 years. Anna Hazare  wants the jail term to be 5 years to life imprisonment. Further, there is general consensus these days ( and even the courts order this) that the corrupt must not get away with their ill-gotten wealth. Anna Hazare’s draft says as much. It says the loss to government  must be recovered from  the accused. For example, if A.Raja, who caused a loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crores to the government is held guilty, then all his properties must be confiscated. The Prime Minister and Ms.Gandhi do not want such a provision. There is no proposal in their draft to recover losses from the corrupt.

Finally, there is clearly an attempt in the government’s draft to scare away complainants. In this draft the Prime Minister and Ms.Gandhi want persons who file false complaints to be penalized and imprisoned, whereas Anna Hazare is more understanding. His draft says persons instituting false and vexatious  complaints should be penalised but there is no attempt on his part to intimidate the “aam admi” who comes before the Lok Pal with a complaint.

After having proposed this sham anti-corruption law, the Congress Party and the government are now tom-tomming the settlement with Anna Hazare as indicative of the “sagacity and wisdom” of Ms.Sonia Gandhi and Mr.Manmohan Singh. It has been wisely said that you cannot fool all the people all the time. But this is one lesson that the Nehru Gandhis will never learn. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and  Ms.Sonia Gandhi are primarily responsible for defreezing the bank account of Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrochchi and enabling him to walk away with the commission of  U.S $ 7.3 million which he got from Bofors.

Again, they are responsible for withdrawal of the criminal case against Quattrochchi. Yet, after the panic settlement with Anna Hazare, both Ms.Gandhi and the Prime Minister, who are party to a worthless draft Bill, claim that they are committed to a strong anti-corruption law! Even more laughable is the contention of the `Amul Baby’ of the family (whose great grand father, grandmother and father fooled the people into believing that they would bring a strong anti-corruption law) that he too favours a strong anti-corruption law. If so, what was he doing  all this while when his party and government were circulating a draft that was not worth the paper on which it was  printed?

Equally shocking is the statement of Swami Agnivesh, one of  Anna Hazare’s interlocutors, that he was “grateful” to Ms.Sonia Gandhi  and the Prime Minister for their “magnanimity” in conceding the  demands of civil society. Someone must present Swami Agnivesh with a copy of the order of  the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal on Bofors’ commissions to Quattrochchi and a copy of former Cabinet Secretary Mr.B.G.Deshmukh’s book `A Cabinet Secretary Looks Back’ in which he talks about delivery of Italian currency in suitcases to Sonia Gandhi’s brother-in-law in Rome at Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s behest in the late 1980s.

All this is not to say that everything is hunky dory in the Anna Hazare Bill. It has its flaws and this will get ironed out in the coming months. But, is it not ludicrous for the President of  the Congress Party (which has fooled the people on the question of Lok Pal from Jawaharlal Nehru’s days and which is party to this spurious draft discussed in the preceding paragraphs) and Prime Minister to now claim that they are as committed as Anna Hazare to bring in a tough anti-corruption law ?