Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday accused social activists Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev of trying to “dictate” terms to the Centre and “weakening” parliamentary democracy by threatening an indefinite fast to get their demands accepted.
At a press conference here, Mr. Mukherjee also criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party for backing the anti-graft movement in a bid “to capture power in an indirect way after being rejected by the people in elections.” The BJP was a “political instrument” of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
The RSS, he said, came out in support of the movement to wriggle out of the sticky situation it found itself in, after it turned out that it was responsible for several extremist activities, including the Malegaon blast.
While he admitted that the current political situation bore “some similarity” to the pre-Emergency days in 1975, Mr. Mukherjee asserted that Emergency would not be imposed again.
The draft Lokpal Bill would be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament, but the Centre could not commit itself to its immediate passage as that was the prerogative of Parliament. “It has been threatened that he [Mr. Hazare] will start an indefinite fast from August 16 if the bill is not passed by August 15. What does that mean? The Constitution grants Parliament the right to pass bills. If someone dictates the time frame for a bill's passage from outside, will it strengthen or weaken the parliamentary democratic system,” he asked.
Mr. Mukherjee was critical of Mr. Hazare's demand for bringing the office of Prime Minister and the judiciary within the ambit of the Lokpal, and raised questions about the procedure proposed for selecting the Lokpal.
Asked about his having gone to the airport, along with four other Cabinet Ministers, to hold dialogue with Baba Ramdev, he said the situation the Centre faced was akin to a double-edged sword. “If we had not tried to talk, the allegation would have been that why the government did not try and why was it so arrogant. When the government made the effort, the allegation is that it is so weak.”
Mr. Mukherjee expressed relief at Ramdev's decision to break his fast. “Thank God he has given up his fast. I pray to God for his health.”