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Congress widens debate on protest

Facing a combined Opposition onslaught for denying social activist Anna Hazare the democratic right to peaceful protest, the Congress on Tuesday sought to enlarge the debate on the approach of the civil society and its repercussions on democracy.

Party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said: “We want to ask all political parties to consider what they are doing for transient political objective and whether they support regular joint drafting of bills; do they support indefinite fast-unto-death after a Bill has become property of Parliament; and will they support the insistence by any slice of civil society on only one version [of the Lokpal] bill?”

He said political parties that were together on the issue should also consider its repercussions on democracy since free speech enshrined in the Constitution came with reasonable restrictions.

Mr. Singhvi attempted to justify the arrest of Mr. Hazare as a consequence of not willing to challenge the Delhi Police order in the courts for placing ‘reasonable restrictions' on him and then violating the law.

While conceding that the police was not “infallible” in applying the reasonable restrictions that went with the right to free speech and protest under the Constitution, Mr. Singhvi said remedy against it rested with a court of law.

Asserting that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government took “stronger and concrete” action to check graft in public life than any previous regimes, the Congress said the current political debate appeared to be the result of political expediency.

He said that besides signing 50 bilateral agreements with foreign countries to regulate black money and setting up of a high-powered committee to check it, the Centre was working to reduce the discretionary powers vested in decision- making since it bred nepotism and had taken strong action against Union Ministers, law-makers and senior corporate executives while sincerely pursuing the Lokpal Bill during the last three months.

Resonating Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Independence Day address, Mr. Singhvi said there was no magic wand to eliminate corruption and likened it to a process and not a destination. However, he parried a spate of questions on whether the Congress considered Mr. Hazare as “corrupt,” as stated by his colleague Manish Tewari who cited the Justice P.B. Sawant Commission report.

Mr. Singhvi, who heads the Parliamentary Committee examining the Lokpal Bill, said members of Mr. Hazare's team, who were part of the drafting committee, appeared before the panel and could appear again.

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