PM's response sought on inclusion under Lokpal

Updated - November 17, 2021 01:23 am IST

Published - June 13, 2011 05:05 pm IST - New Delhi

Civil society members of the Lokpal Bill drafting committee, Shanti Bhushan and Anna Hazare during the latter's day-long fast in New Delhi. File photo: Rajeev Bhatt.

Civil society members of the Lokpal Bill drafting committee, Shanti Bhushan and Anna Hazare during the latter's day-long fast in New Delhi. File photo: Rajeev Bhatt.

A couple of days ahead of the next meeting of the Joint Drafting Committee on the Lokpal Bill, the five civil society members have written a joint letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking his response to the proposal that his post should be brought under the purview of the Lokpal.

The letter seeks to counter the alleged tirade against them by the Union Ministers on the Lokpal panel.

Signed by Anna Hazare, Shanti Bhushan, Santosh Hegde, Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal, the letter informed Dr. Singh of the attempts being made by the government to keep him out of the purview of the Lokpal and wondered why an honest Prime Minister like him must be “scared of being investigated by an independent Lokpal.”

Referring to the Prime Minister's statement expressing his willingness to be covered by the Lokpal, the letter sought to know why his Ministers were now being protective of him.

The letter said that as head of the parliamentary standing committee on the Lokpal Bill during the NDA regime in 2001, Mr. Mukherjee had recommended inclusion of the Prime Minister under the scope of the Lokpal, to which the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had consented.

As late as January 2011, Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily had brought the Prime Minister under the Lokpal's purview in the draft Bill and Union Home Minister P.Chidambaram appended his concurrence to the proposal. “We are wondering what happened post-March 2011, which prompted the government to suddenly take a U-turn on this issue.”

Charging the government with trying to shrink the scope of the anti-corruption regime, the signatories maintained that keeping the Prime Minister out of any probe would be a retrograde step.

Separately at a press conference, Mr. Kejriwal and Mr. Prashant Bhushan expressed their resentment at the manner in which Mr. Mukherjee accused civil society members of undermining democratic institutions like Parliament. The statement betrayed a “distorted understanding of democracy and arrogance of power.”

Replying to a question, they underlined their resolve to attend the meetings of the Lokpal panel and, if all did not go well, present a dissent alternative proposal. If a positive result failed to emerge by the deadline of June 30, then the path left would be an agitation, they added.

Congress war on Hazare

Smita Gupta reports:

A day after Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, chairperson of the joint drafting committee for the Lokpal Bill, accused social activist Anna Hazare of trying to subvert democracy, the Congress described the “violent” language the latter was deploying against the government as “un-Gandhian.”

To a question on the change in the tone of the government and the party, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said: “We initially gave civil society groups the benefit of the doubt, but when they started taking advantage of our magnanimity and portraying it as weakness, there was a revision in our assessment.” He stressed that sarkar iqbal se chalti hain (a government derives its authority from the prestige in which it is held).

In a no-holds barred attack on Monday, Mr. Tewari said it appeared that Mr. Hazare was reading from a script written by the “forces behind him.” “Shri Hazare says he doesn't belong to any political party or cultural organisation, but as soon as he ended his first hunger fast, he praised the Chief Minister of Gujarat [the BJP's Narendra Modi] for good governance. Then he goes to Bangalore, but does not notice any corruption in the Yeddyurappa-led BJP government.”

Pointing out that as a member of the joint drafting committee, Mr. Hazare had an opportunity to convince the government's representatives, Mr. Tewari said: “If democracy faces its greatest perils, it is from the tyranny of the unelected and the unelectable.”

Clearly, the UPA government — and the Congress — which took a beating in the week following the visit of four Union Cabinet Ministers to the airport to receive Baba Ramdev, is now determined to demonstrate that it is firmly back in the driver's seat. Within the party and the government, there had been murmurs of protest at the loss of “iqbal” — prestige and esteem — so much so that even the party magazine ran an editorial criticising the visit of the Ministers to the airport. Even though its author, Anil Shastri, was later pulled up for writing the editorial without consulting the party, the fact is that the magazine was released without any changes.

Asked whether the Congress was not using unusually harsh language against Mr. Hazare, Mr. Tewari said: “Constructive discourse involves restraint on both sides — you can't call the sovereign government of the day a bunch of cheats and frauds: the government represents 1.2 billion people. It also shows what contempt you have for the electorate who have elected this government.”

Pointing out that five individuals who represented a few organisations could not claim to speak for the people, Mr. Tewari asked: “What is civil society? Are the rest of us uncivil?” As members of a joint committee, the views of all 10 would have to be considered.

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