The Bharatiya Janata Party has refused to answer specific questions raised over the last few days by Team Anna. Does it agree that Parliament must pass the jan lokpal bill of activist by August 30? Does the BJP agree that the bill can be the only effective instrument for ending corruption? Should parliamentary procedures be cut short to meet the deadline?
While there were no clear answers from those who talked to The Hindu, the party's top brass preferred the escape route by refusing to answer at all.
Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj was not available for comment and her counterpart in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said: “I will give my views at a time chosen by me.”
BJP president Nitin Gadkari was sent the questions through e-mail to his political secretary, but there was no response .
However, some party leaders did speak, but evasively. When the former party president, Rajnath Singh, was asked about Anna Team's deadline, he said: “It is for the government to answer that question as the deadline has been given to the government. And how can I say what Parliament will do or not do and by what date?”
While he spoke in generalities about his party wanting a “strong and effective Lokpal bill,” he criticised the government Bill for being “toothless.” He was not willing to comment on whether the BJP agreed with the provisions of the jan lokpal bill— although Mr. Gadkari and Ms. Swaraj earlier stated publicly that the party did not approve of either the government Bill or the jan lokpal bill.
Mr. Singh added: “Arvind Kejriwal [of the Anna Team] has suggested that the government talk with the team; now it is for the government to take the initiative to break the deadlock that has arisen.”
Chief party spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad refused to give a direct answer on the August 30 deadline. He, however, said: “The government has to clarify these things. The mess was created by the government; it must do something to clear it.”
There was an “outpouring of public anger” over the corruption issue and it was for the government to answer why it did not have in place an effective bill to deal with the problem, he said.
Mr. Prasad added that his party was for a “strong Lokpal bill in which the Prime Minister must be included; and separately a national judicial commission must be appointed for corruption in higher judiciary.” The party's criticism of the government Bill was that it also provided for penalties for frivolous complaints. “It has heavy penalties for whistleblowers. The BJP is opposed to this.”
‘Opposition kept out'
Another party spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said the government had engaged with Team Anna in the joint drafting committee for over 100 hours, keeping the Opposition out. Now it was for the government to sort out the matter. She too spoke in general terms about wanting a “strong and effective Lokpal bill” but refused to either reject or accept Team Anna's bill as “the alternative” that would cure the disease of corruption.
“All that I can say is the BJP will play a constructive role in Parliament to help adopt a strong Lokpal bill,” Ms. Sitharaman said.
Should the Standing Committee procedure be short circuited?
To this, she said once a bill was tabled, it became the property of Parliament. “It is Parliament's privilege to study it, understand it, change or modify it building on the draft before it.”
And finally, her view was the “current mess and deadlock” was “100 per cent” the government's responsibility. She did not think the obduracy and inflexibility of Team Anna was the cause of the impasse and the crisis.