Almost all feel that Bills must be made in Parliament, not on the streets

The government, no doubt, has been rightly accused of mishandling the Anna Hazare protest and, worse, of misjudging the public mood. But it is equally true that even the worst critics of the government in Parliament want nothing to do with the central demand of Team Anna: Parliament must consider their ‘Jan Lokpal Bill.'

After Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's statement on the emotive subject of Mr. Hazare's arrest — and the release orders issued within 12 hours — the Congress was almost completely isolated, deserted by even its own allies who preferred not to speak at all, or, if they did, were critical of the government's “mishandling” of the situation, strongly defending the right to dissent and protest.

But ironically, not one party has said the ‘Jan Lokpal Bill' is better than the government's Bill. Nor is anyone from the political class supporting Team Anna's main demand: Parliament must consider and discuss the ‘Jan Lokpal Bill' to pass it into law. Thus, the parties are left in the awkward situation of supporting Mr. Hazare's right to protest in whichever way he wants, while rubbishing his main demand.

Politicians across the spectrum are one in rejecting Team Anna's demand. Thus, while they have unitedly knocked the bottom out of Team Anna's campaign, they have come together opportunistically — sensing the moment of the government's extreme discomfiture — to say they strongly support his right to protest and express a different point of view.

“Nobody can dictate to Parliament...he [Mr. Hazare] has had his say before the standing committee [considering the Lokpal Bill], and he must have confidence in Parliament and await the outcome,” said D. Raja of the Communist Party of India. He was one of the several Opposition leaders who had together decided on Tuesday that unless the Prime Minister made a statement on the arrest of Mr. Hazare and his team members and both Houses were allowed to discuss the issue threadbare, Parliament could not function. “Legislation must be enacted by Parliament; it cannot be made in Ramlila Maidan or J.P. Park,” he said.

BJP president Nitin Gadkari and parliamentary leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley have also questioned the idea of Bills being made on the streets by any group, however well-meaning they are. Ms. Swaraj said as much on the floor of the Lok Sabha. The party also said that while it had problems with the government's draft, it was not in agreement with the ‘Jan Lokpal Bill' either.

Disagreeing with the main demand of the civil society activists, the BJP, as the main Opposition party, is naturally interested in making Parliament and the entire government dysfunctional.

Sitaram Yechury of the CPI(M) was even more forthright. He strongly differed with Team Anna's demand. “How can that be? There is a constitutional scheme of things; a legislative process that cannot be abandoned. Yes, Parliament can amend the Bill when it comes up for discussion and issues raised in the ‘Jan Lokpal' can be discussed, and even adopted as amendments, if the majority of members agree.”

Mr. Yechury also pointed out that Anna Team's argument was “akin to that used by the Sangh Parivar and the BJP, which had asserted that the 80 per cent people of India [the Hindus] want to build a Ram temple at the disputed Babri Masjid site.” At that time too, BJP leader L.K. Advani and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad built a so-called people's movement, he noted, and Mr. Advani traversed the country on his “rath” to mobilise opinion, but “should Parliament have caved in to that demand?”

While strongly supporting the “democratic right” of Mr. Hazare's followers to protest, not one politician of note was willing to support Team Anna's demand — reiterated on Wednesday through a press statement — that “the end objective [of the protest], which thousands of people also demand, is a strong anti-corruption law: the Jan Lokpal Bill.”

Ram Vilas Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party took Mr. Yechury's argument further. “Tomorrow, if some leader or party were to create a view among the Hindus that the Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and members of other religious minorities must be disenfranchised, should Parliament be compelled to pass such a law?,” he asked. He also pointed to a major flaw in the ‘Jan Lokpal Bill,' under which the Lokpal would be investigator, prosecutor and judge.

Not one party has backed the clause in the ‘Jan Lokpal Bill' to bring the judiciary under its purview, while the BJP, the Left and some other parties favour that the institution cover the office of Prime Minister. As for the Lokpal's jurisdiction over every case of corruption in the country, the consensus is that it will be counter-productive as the institution will get clogged with lakhs of cases.

The Samajwadi Party is yet to clarify its views. But its MP Shailendra Kumar made it clear that Parliament alone could legislate, and a ruling party had the constitutional right to present a Bill to Parliament. “An MP can do so by presenting a private members' Bill that is barely discussed and almost always rejected.”