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Friday, 19 August 2011

Worried govt decides to wait

New Delhi: The government believes it is short of options in dealing with an inflexible Anna Hazare and feels the best course is to disengage for a while. There is no communication between the two sides now.

The Congress core committee met this evening but nothing concrete emerged even though, sources said, there was a deep sense of worry and the leaders wanted the impasse to end soon.

The sources, however, insisted that there was no question of withdrawing the Lokpal bill, a demand that the Left and its allies too voiced today.

“Pressure created through mass mobilisation will have no effect; the constitutional process cannot be altered under duress,” a senior minister said.

Asked about the government’s strategy to counter the snowballing protest, the minister said: “No strategy is required. We are busy with the heavy legislative agenda in Parliament. If political parties support Hazare’s agenda, which is to create instability, they should bring a no-confidence motion.”

Congress leaders are discounting the possibility of any breakthrough through dialogue. “They are saying, ‘Pass the Jan Lokpal bill in this session’. How can that happen?” a senior leader said.

The leader said that adopting the Hazare group’s version of the bill was impossible but added that the Centre would consider the standing committee’s suggestions with an open mind.

Congress leaders concede that Hazare’s campaign has damaged the party politically but doubt that this hostile climate can be sustained till the 2014 general election.

The party is not planning any immediate political response either, since organising a counter rally may appear confrontational at this stage. At least for now, it is only wait and watch for the government and the Congress.

MP Varun Gandhi of the BJP has created a flutter by promising to bring the “Jan Lokpal” draft as a private member’s bill, but more than 90 per cent of such bills are not even debated in the House. No private member’s bill has been passed in Parliament since 1970.

Parties’ stand

The political parties are largely critical of Hazare’s threat to continue his fast until Parliament passes his “Jan Lokpal bill”.

The BJP has refused to spell out its stand clearly and the Left, while demanding the Centre withdraw its bill, has neither supported nor rejected the Hazare group’s version.

Dal (United) MP Shivanand Tiwari, who is close to Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, said it was time for the government and the Opposition to sit together and evolve a consensus on the issue.

“There is no way the ‘Jan Lokpal bill’ can enter Parliament. We have serious differences with the government’s draft, but Parliament is empowered to make amendments and give the bill more teeth,” he said.

Biju Janata Dal MP Bhartruhari Mahtab too sharply criticised Hazare’s stand.

Samajwadi MP Ram Gopal Yadav said that while the Centre should have involved the UPA allies and the Opposition in the bill drafting panel, it was “never too late” to make amends.

“It can seize the present moment and start consulting all of us as well as Hazare, Kejriwal and the others. I am sure they are reasonable,” Yadav said, adding that the “Jan Lokpal bill” was “unacceptable”.

BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said: “It is for the government to clarify if it wants an effective Lokpal.... Let the government demonstrate its commitment to combating corruption by introducing a robust Lokpal bill.”

The Lokpal bill is with the parliamentary standing committee on law and justice, which is headed by Congress Rajya Sabha member Abhishek Singhvi. The 13-member panel has five stated Opposition members while the status of Kirodi Lal Meena, Independent MP from Rajasthan, is indeterminate.

Hazare’s associate Arvind Kejriwal claimed at a news conference this evening that since the UPA dominated the standing committee, it could easily ratify the “Jan Lokpal bill”.


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