As support to the agitation by veteran social activist Anna Hazare in favour of ‘Jan Lokpal Bill' gathered momentum, Congress president and the Chairperson of the National Advisory Council (NAC) Sonia Gandhi on Thursday said his views would receive the ‘full attention' of the government and appealed to him to give up his fast.
Without getting into the nitty-gritty of the demands of the followers of Mr. Hazare on setting up a Lokpal institution, Ms. Gandhi expressed pain over the activist's fast-unto-death and maintained that there could be no two opinions on the urgent necessity of combating graft and corruption.
“I believe that the laws in these matters must be effective and must deliver the desired results. I am sure that Mr. Anna Hazare's views will receive the government's full attention as we move forward to fight this menace. I appeal to Annaji to give up his fast,” she said in a statement.
A sub-committee of the NAC headed by Ms. Gandhi is already examining the Lokpal Bill. The NAC Working Group (WG) on ‘Transparency, Accountability and Governance' (TA&G) held its first consultation with civil society groups on the Lokpal Bill under the convenership of Aruna Roy on April 4.
A statement posted on the NAC website after the meeting said that it discussed the draft prepared by various people's movements and groups. After exhaustive discussions, there was consensus on most of the general principles underlying the draft Bill, though some provisions need to be examined further.
“The NAC WG on TA & G will finalise the principles and framework, on the basis of this discussion. Another meeting of the WG is scheduled before the National Advisory Council meets on April 28,” it said.
Separately, the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan (MKSS) of which Ms. Roy is a member, in a statement said that it appreciated the efforts of Mr. Hazare and his campaign in highlighting this issue, and creating a groundswell of support for a strong “Jan Lokpal Bill.”
At the same time it also noted that bypassing democratic processes for political expediency, however desirable the outcome, may be detrimental to democracy itself. “Thus our focus is not on ensuring that there is 50 per cent representation for civil society with members of the GoM who are entrusted with drafting the Bill, but to demand that the government immediately announce its intention to pass a strong Lokpal Legislation based on wide public consultations.”
The statement said that the MKSS will network with the National Campaign for the People's Right to Information (NCPRI) and other like-minded campaigns to take the people's demands for an independent, accountable and effective Lokpal to the government.
The nature of support extended by the Opposition parties to Mr. Hazare's agitation was also generic. They are neither endorsing the version of the Bill proposed by Mr. Hazare nor getting into the specific demand for a government/civil society joint committee to work on the draft Bill.
In response to questions at a news conference here on whether his party backed the Lokpal Bill put forth by Mr. Hazare, BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadaker said, “We agree with the sentiments and cause.”
Asked about the reported statement by of Mr. Hazare that he and his supporters had lost faith in political parties, Mr. Javadaker contended that the BJP did not agree with all the views of the veteran activist.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) on Thursday backed the move for an effective Lokpal Bill suggesting that the government set up a mechanism to consult all parties, social activists and concerned citizens' groups to finalise a new draft legislation.
In a statement, the party Polit Bureau said the need for an effective Lokpal legislation assumed importance in the backdrop of the spate of corruption scandals and Mr. Hazare's fast highlighting this need.
Stating that the party was advocating the setting up of a strong Lokpal authority to look into complaints of corruption against public servants and government officials, the statement said that “efforts to bring about such legislation have not made headway in the past. The draft proposed by the Government of India is inadequate and will not serve the purpose.”
Commenting on the issue of corruption and its patrons, the party said the government and the political leadership could not escape from being accountable to the people.
“The criminal culpability of those engaged in such corruption cannot be absolved. The current agitation by a section of social activists is a reflection of this widely popular sentiment amongst the people.
“The discussions on the content of such institutional mechanism [the Lokpal], however, must not detract from the urgency to pursue the criminal culpability in all the scams exposed so far and should not deflect attention from the need to bring back huge amounts of money stashed away in foreign banks,” an editorial in the latest edition of party organ People's Democracy said.
While arguing that on both these counts the guilty must be severely punished, the editorial said the coming session of Parliament must enact the Lokpal Bill after “widespread discussions both among the political parties, social activists and, most importantly, the people.”