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Friday, 19 August 2011

Jan Lokpal Bill would lead to a police state: Salman Khurshid

India will become a police state if Anna Hazare 's version of the Lokpal bill is accepted, according to Law Minister Salman Khurshid . The suggestions made by Hazare and his team for creating a tough anti-corruption institution go "against the federal fabric of our country", says Khurshid. Although it is not the best of times for a minister to hold forth on governance - when his government is facing a hostile opposition in the House and a belligerent civil society outside - Khurshid is candid about the government's hard line despite popular protests. In a frank conversation with ET , Khurshid talks about his government's position, its strategy and views on the Lokpal. Excerpts: 

Team Anna has demanded that it is only the Jan Lokpal bill that can address the issue of corruption in a meaningful way. What are main objections to the bill?

We cannot accept what is being demanded as the Constitution does not allow us to do so. Accepting those provisions would mean transforming the democratic set up to a police state. The Jan Lokpal Bill calls for officers at every administrative level who'll carry out investigations and prosecutions. This would lead to creation of a police state. Second, they (Team Anna) want the Lokpal Bill to automatically come into effect at the state and central level.

This goes against the federal fabric of our country. They wanted death penalty for corruption, which they have now toned down to life imprisonment. Is that what our democracy is all about? They want the judiciary and the prime minister to be under the ambit of the Lokpal. We have suggested a judicial commission for the judiciary.

Team Anna wants the government to withdraw the current bill and introduce the Jan Lokpal bill instead. How will you break this logjam? 

We hope to have a robust debate in the Parliament and appoint a strong Lokpal. The standing committee, or opposition members, can suggest amendments and these can be debated. On the demand that the current bill be withdrawn, I am not too sure if that is the way forward. Bills are withdrawn and sometimes they lapse but there are no instances where the government is forced to withdraw a bill under pressure.

Do you think the govt'strategy to disallow the protest failed? 

I do not think we were wrong in doing what we did. We had been in discussions, we had hoped that they would see reason. There were other options too. For one, we could have allowed him (Hazare) to fast and lead demonstrations and waited till the matter went out of control. Who would have been responsible for not being able to handle the situation? The other would be to surrender and abdicate our responsibilities and allow them to play our role as lawmakers.

Can any MP agree to that? In hindsight, we have been able to get Anna & Co to see some reason. Their initial plan was 'fast unto death'. Then it changed to indefinite and, as of now, the fast is for a fortnight. Second, they have accepted medical supervision of Anna's health and Dr Naresh Trehan will be a part of the medical team. We will wait 'n' watch. We have to get down to a dialogue.


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