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Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Rahul’s Lokpal on table - Salman revives plan for constitutional body

New Delhi : The government intends to make the Lokpal a constitutional authority, law minister Salman Khurshid said tonight, breathing life into a “game-changer” proposal mooted by Rahul Gandhi.

If the Centre carries through the proposal, which had evoked a lukewarm response when Rahul had sprung it on the Lok Sabha, the Congress is certain to give credit to the MP and challenge Anna Hazare’s plank.

The timing of Khurshid’s statement to PTI was significant. It came in the middle of the Hazare camp’s open campaign against the Congress in the Hisar bypoll in Haryana and a perception — articulated through a letter by business leaders — that the government is dragging its feet on the Lokpal bill.

Khurshid’s disclosure was also preceded by two letters —one from the Prime Minister and another from Digvijaya Singh — to Hazare that politely reminded him of constitutional and legislative procedures and questioned the affiliations of his supporters.

A constitutional amendment bill is to be introduced in the winter session of Parliament starting next month and the Lokpal bill is expected to be approved in the same session, Khurshid told PTI tonight.

The news agency said Khurshid had confirmed that the initiative was a follow-up to the proposal made by Rahul during the Lok Sabha debate when Hazare was sitting on a fast in the capital. Rahul later described it as a “game-changer” but critics saw traces of “grandstanding” that appeared to dilute the Prime Minister’s conciliatory message to Hazare the day before.

Khurshid was unavailable for comment after the news agency put out the report, which quoted the minister as saying the proposal had not yet been formally considered by the Union cabinet.

Asked about the composition of the Lokpal, the minister said the proposal was to have 11 members, at least 50 per cent of whom will have a judicial background. The others will be from civil society.

“We are working on a very strong Lokpal bill. A Lokpal bill that will come with a constitutional amendment. That amendment will give the Lokpal the status of a constitutional authority,” Khurshid said.

The Lokpal will be “more powerful than the Election Commission” and “will have far greater powers”, he said, adding that the proposal was with a parliamentary committee.

In his letter to Hazare, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the Lokpal was only part of a comprehensive anti-corruption legal regime his government was working on, subtly rejecting the position that one bill could be the panacea for all ills.

Replying to a letter written by Hazare on September 21, Singh said his government envisaged a broad agenda requiring larger administrative and legal reforms that includes the Lokpal.

Singh also touched upon electoral reforms but virtually rejected Hazare’s demand for the “right to recall”, pointing out that such drastic measures could not be brought about without political consensus.

The Prime Minister thanked Hazare for giving his views on various subjects but reminded him that the government took decisions only after examining the legal, executive and technical aspects.

This is being seen in Congress circles as a clear rejection of Team Anna’s tendency to ask for commitments from the government.

Congress leader Digvijaya bluntly asked Hazare to clarify whether he was fighting the Congress or corruption.

The Congress leader said that while Hazare’s aides had a known anti-Congress agenda, taking the help of the RSS and the BJP would undermine his credentials.

In an open letter to Hazare, Digvijaya expressed profound respect for him but felt that the activist was taking steps under the influence of vested interests that are not in tune with his value system. Naming Prashant Bhusan and Arvind Kejriwal, Digvijaya wrote: “They are exploiting your clean image to serve their own political interests.”

The four-page letter asks Hazare to distinguish between the Congress and other parties on the basis of their track record in fighting corruption and recalls the steps taken by the government in the recent past to punish the guilty and strengthen the legal framework.

It also recalled the BJP’s corruption cases and asked if even an FIR was lodged in the Tehelka scandals. The letter also pointed to the conduct of Baba Ramdev, who is fighting corruption despite facing money-laundering charges himself.

Digvijaya accused Hazare of being silent when the BJP did nothing to fight corruption in their six-year rule and being soft on leaders like Narendra Modi while viciously fighting the Congress. “Your credibility comes under cloud when you deny the RSS support to your agitation when it is all known and the RSS chief himself has acknowledged it,” Digvijaya’s letter said.

He expressed surprise that a person who is running such a huge nationwide campaign does not know the key players behind his success.

“If you take help of corrupt people to fight corruption, will it help your cause? Don’t you know the history of the Bhajan Lal and Chautala families you are helping in Hisar bypoll?” Digvijaya asked.

Although the Congress has not associated itself with the letter so far, senior leaders have shown keen interest in Digvijaya’s initiative and have appreciated his arguments. The Congress may get directly involved once Hazare responds to Digvijaya’s letter.


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