The Congress Working Committee (CWC), which met here on Friday evening to discuss the controversial Lokpal Bill, was unanimous in its view that the government should not allow itself to be held to ransom by a handful of civil society activists.
Simultaneously, it was clarified that the draft of the government representatives on the joint Lokpal Bill drafting committee was just that – it was not yet the official government draft that would emerge only after the government took a final view after the all-party meeting slated for July 3.
Issue of booklet
On the specifics of the Bill, CWC sources said a few members concurring with the view of the government representatives on the joint drafting committee said there was no need to include the Prime Minister in the Bill as he, along with all citizens, was covered by the Prevention of Corruption Act and the law of the land. There were, these sources added, no voices to the contrary.
Indeed, a few members even impressed on the CWC the need for party leaders to speak in one voice so that there were no reports about “a party view” and “a government view.” The CWC, therefore, has taken the view that the party will concur with the government line on the Lokpal Bill, once it emerges after the meeting of July 3. The Congress may then issue a booklet on its views on the Lokpal Bill at that stage.
Indeed, though the focus of the meeting was the Lokpal Bill, anger against civil society members took centre stage. At Friday's meeting, there was no direct criticism of the government's handling of the issue but a couple of members indirectly suggested, sources said, that the government had given a long rope to civil society members by including them in the joint drafting committee, a gesture that was not appreciated. On the contrary, this inclusion, these sources added, paved the way for the pressure tactics adopted by yoga guru Baba Ramdev.
Earlier, shortly after the CWC meeting concluded, Congress media chairperson and party general secretary Janardan Dwivedi told journalists that Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee gave a chronological, blow-by-blow account of the journey the Lokpal Bill had taken, from its inclusion in the party's manifesto, to a draft being readied in 2010 – before any civil society activist has asked for it – to the trajectory the joint drafting committee meetings had taken. In his intervention, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram pointed out the finer legal points of the Bill.
According to Mr. Dwivedi, in her opening remarks party president Sonia Gandhi said that from time to time, both she and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had highlighted the menace of corruption, and the action the government had taken to tackle it, as well as the many steps taken in the interest of the people. The Prime Minister made the concluding remarks, stressing that the government had done whatever it could to deal with corruption.
Party general secretary Digvijay Singh repeated at the meeting a line that he – and the party – have taken: that Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev were the masks of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party – and the party needed to tackle that larger threat.