‘Bahujan’ Lokpal Bill Makes New Demands Yoginder Sikand

                                    As numerous reports—mainly in the alternate media—have pointed out, Anna Hazare’s ‘crusade against corruption’ has won little support from among the Dalits and other marginalized caste groups, who are undoubtedly among the most miserable victims of India’s thoroughly corrupt social order. But, more than that, numerous Dalit intellectuals have denounced Mr. Hazare’s proposed Jan Lokpal as allegedly calculated to subvert Constitutional Democracy, just as they have accused many of his ‘upper’ caste Hindu backers of being vehemently opposed to reservations for the oppressed castes.  Justice Party chief Udit Raj, a noted Dalit leader, recently organized a massive ‘Save the Constitution’ march in New Delhi to highlight what he called the threat to the Indian Constitution from Mr. Hazare’s movement. In place of the Jan Lokpal of ‘Team Anna’, Udit Raj, along with numerous other leaders from the Dalit, Backward Caste and religious minority communities, has proposed a ‘Bahujan Lokpal Bill’, arguing that the draft presented by ‘Team Anna’ and backed by what Udit Raj calls ‘casteist campaigners’ is clearly flawed and inadequate as far as the ‘Bahujan Samaj’—that is to say all Indians other than the minority Savarna Hindus—are concerned. The draft Bahujan Lokpal, which Udit Raj has publicly circulated for comments and suggestions, is to be handed over to the Chairman of the Standing Committee of Parliament shortly.
The draft Bahujan Lokpal Bill commences with a reminder that Babasaheb Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution, was convinced that the plight of the Dalits required corrective measures on the part of the state, including affirmative action, but regrets that this has not happened in the manner and on the scale that it should have. Hence, in the backdrop of the Hazare-led agitation for a powerful Lokpal, it says, the interests of the Dalits must be kept foremost in mind. It should not be, it says, that this proposed Lokpal will result in ‘new laws and rules’ that are ‘oppressive and discriminatory’ and that would subvert the Constitutional provisions for Dalits and other marginalized communities as formulated by Dr. Ambedkar.  The Lokpal, if it comes into being, it stresses, must in no way negatively impinge of various acts, laws, rules and besides institutions created by Constitutional means for the marginalized communities, including the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, National Commission for Backward Classes and National Commission for Minorities. Moreover, rather than remaining confined simply to fighting corruption, the Lokpal should, the draft Bahujan Lokpall Bill says, also be ‘anti caste-discrimination’, suggesting that corruption cannot be seen in isolation from the casteism and communalism, which it identifies as two major bases for corruption. 

The drafters of the proposed Bahujan Lokpal Bill clearly distance themselves from the backers of the Jan Lokpal Bill but, at the same time, argue in support of what they term ‘a strong and effective Lokpal Bill which can be instrumental in eradicating corruption from public life’. In addition, they significantly add, the Lokpal should also combat and punish ‘caste discrimination’ in public offices and places. This is an aspect that the proposed Jan Lokpal Bill ignores, for which many Dalit intellectuals have accused it of being a Savarna Hindu ploy. ‘Social discrimination’, the draft Bahujan Lokpal Bill notes, ‘is more poisonous and injurious to a civil society as compared to corruption in public offices because social discrimination is against humanity and hence it is a social evil […]’. Accordingly, it adds, there is a need for what it terms as ‘substantial changes’ in the proposed Lokpal Bill, for it contends that Mr. Hazare’s Jan Lokpal Bill is ‘an attempt to supersede existing Constitutional bodies and attempt to create a super institution with sweeping powers which can be dangerous for the benevolent laws enacted by the Indian Parliament favoring Dalit employees, labourers, workers and citizens who are facing the arrogant and biased attitude of the non-Dalits towards Dalits in different spheres of life and employment.’ If the proposed Jan Lokpal Bill, in its present form is passed by Parliament, it argues, ‘it would inflict double injury on the Dalits and further aggravate our problems.’ 

 Given that, as the note contends, Dalits, Adivasis, Backward Castes, religious minorities, children and women are what it terms ‘the worst sufferers of the many ramifications of corruption, including mis-governance, misconduct, maladministration, improper discrimination, etc.’, it argues that it is crucial that their rights and interests are secured and promoted through the institution of the Lokpal, rather than being subverted, as the note alleges might well happen if the ‘Team Anna’’s Jan Lokpal comes into force. For this purpose, it argues that the concept of ‘corruption’ with regard to the Lokpal be widened to include diverting outlays for plans marked for the benefit of Dalits, Adivasis, Backward Castes and religious minorities, as the case might be, to any other purpose; failure to formulate these plans in a manner which will reduce the gap between the particular marginalized community the plans is ostensibly meant for and the ‘upper’ castes; reporting utilisation of funds earmarked for these plans for purposes other than for directly and exclusively benefitting the particular marginalized community it is meant for; and failure on the part of public servants to take prompt take remedial and punitive action when any of these failures, diversions misutilisations or misreporting are brought to their notice.

To ensure that the interests of the ‘Bahujan Samaj’ are not ignored by the Lokpal, the draft Bill suggests that the Lokpal, supported by the Lokayukt at the state-level, ought to have proper representation from the marginalized communities—that is to say communities other than the Savarna Hindus— and that this should be reflected in its membership. The search and selection committees formed to appoint the Lokpal and Lokayukt should, it argues, have at least four members from the marginalized communities, and the selection must involve detailed discussions with intellectuals and social activists from these communities. 

The draft Bahujan Lokpal Bill also proposes that the Lokpal and Lokayukt be supervised by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, National Commission for Backward Classes and National Commission for Minorities besides other institutions in case the allegations of corruption that it deals with are against members of SC, ST, OBC or religious minority communities respectively. The opinion or advice of the respective Commission should, it recommends, prevail over the respective Lokpal or Lokayukt, and once a case is referred to the Commission, the Lokpal or Lokayukt shall cease to have the power to further act upon it. Before initiating investigation against a member of any marginalized community, the draft Bahujan Lokpal Bill suggests, prior approval from the respective Commission should be mandatory. In case this approval is granted, the suspect is to given a fair hearing before filing an FIR against him. Members of marginalized communities would be entitled to have advocates from the Government free of cost to present their cases before the Lokpal/Lokayukt. The draft Bill also suggests that Special Courts shall be notified, formed and presided over by judges belonging to marginalized communities to prosecute members of such communities. It recommends that the investigating agency under the Lokpal and Lokayukt be headed by a member of a marginalized community in case the suspect is a member of that particular community. 

Clearly, whatever the merits or otherwise of the draft Bahujan Lokpal Bill may be, it does suggest that by ignoring the question of casteism and communalism the proposed Jan Lokpall Bill does not appear to satisfy communities at the bottom of India’s hierarchical social pyramid, the most pathetic victims of a corrupt social order. The draft also points out that the proposed Jan Lokpal leaves out other vast sectors, again almost entirely controlled by the Savarna Hindu minority—from its purview, where corruption is rampant—corporate houses, the media and NGOs. These sectors, too, it insists, should be included under the jurisdiction of the Lokpal and Lokayukt.