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Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Lokpal: endgame near despite Anna protest?

New Delhi: As the deadline of another agitation by Anna Hazare for a strong Lokpal Bill approaches, the UPA has decided to withdraw the old draft and introduce a new one in Parliament even though several smaller parties have accused the Government of trying to rush though the proposed anti-corruption legislation.
Anna has threatened to go on hunger strike from December 27 if Parliament fails to pass a strong Lokpal Bill, but there is no unanimity among the different parties on the proposed Bill.

The winter session of Parliament, which was scheduled to end on December 22, has been extended by three days from December 27 to discuss Lokpal Bill and other legislations.

The Lokpal bill is expected to be introduced in the Lok Sabha on Thursday and would be taken up for discussion when Parliament reconvenes on December 27 after a four-day Christmas break.

Even as UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi addressed Congress MPs and assured them that the government bend further to please Team Anna and the Opposition, the UPA withdrew the old bill and decided to introduce a new draft. The BJP has given its nod to this proposal.

She told her party colleagues that the Government won't go down without a fight on the Lokpal Bill and will ensure that it doesn't meet the same fate as the Women's Reservation Bill.

She also reiterated that the Government and the party were united on the issue and hit out at the Opposition in general and the BJP in particular for trying to derail the Lokpal Bill.

"The Lokpal Bill has been cleared by the Cabinet. The Opposition will have lots of things to say. They should accept suggestions of Government. Team Anna should also accept it. The Opposition cannot reconcile to the fact that they lost (the 2009 Lok Sabha elections). The party and Government support each other, there is no rift between the party and Government," said Sonia.

In another major development, several MPs cutting across party lines have come down heavily on both the Lokpal Bill cleared by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Cabinet and anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare.

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad, Samajwadi Party Chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury have questioned the UPA Government's intention while making it clear that Parliament will not rush through the anti-corruption legislation in a hurry to please Hazare and his associates.

Lalu questioned the need for rushing though the legislation and said that a Bill can be passed after following a due process of Parliament.

"No one can dictate terms to us. Parliament has to follow due process. It is an important legislation. MPs may want to move amendments. How can we rush through it?" questioned Lalu.

Mulayam Singh Yadav warned the government that the proposed legislation would give 'all powers' to the police.

"Lokpal will not be in your hands. It will go to the hands of police. Nothing can be done then against the police," he said and apparently referred to Anna Hazare as he asked whether all this could be done "under pressure of one man".

He said his party will oppose as much as it can. "These powers will go to the police, they will not respect us (MPs). Superintendents of Police and District

Magistrates will send us to jail," Yadav said.

Mayawati-led Bhaujan Samaj Party is also against rushing through the Bill while the Shiv Sena has opposed the concept of a Lokpal completely. The BJP and Biju Janata Dal have also opposed the Government version, but want an early passage of the Bill.

The BJP is yet to reveal its strategy but it has said that the party is ready for a discussion on the Bill any day. It is likely to raise objections on the procedure of the appointment of the Lokpal panel.

BJP leader Arun Jaitely said, "Primary reports on draft are matter of concern. It doesn't measure to our expectation. Selection of Lokpal and independence of CBI is a major concern."

However, Keeping up the heat, Team Anna on Wednesday attacked the government for keeping CBI out of Lokpal's ambit, saying it 'totally destroys' the anti-corruption mechanism in the country by not giving an investigating arm to the ombudsman.

"If the CBI is outside, then how will the Lokpal be strong? This system will save corrupt politicians. If CBI comes under Lokpal then (Home Minister) P Chidambaram will be in jail. You are saving corrupt politicians and say it is a strong Lokpal," Anna said.

"It is cheating people who will teach them a lesson," he said adding he will campaign against the UPA in Uttar Pradesh and other four states going to polls early next year.

Team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal said the new bill will do "more harm than doing good" to the existing anti-graft machinery.

Another Team Anna member Justice Santosh Hegde said there was some "ego problem" with government in accepting certain suggestions in Jan Lokpal bill while Kiran Bedi claimed that the agency will remain under government control till immunity is given for past acts of corruption by political parties.

"The Lokpal Bill will not have even investigating powers. You will complain to Lokpal but it cannot investigate. What Lokpal is the government setting up? It means the government is cheating people," Kejriwal said.

Hegde said with CBI out of Lokpal's control, what it does will be like departmental enquiry. "This is certainly unacceptable," he said.

Bedi said on micro-blogging site Twitter, "The bill is not path breaking but breaking the path. Thank you Sonia G."

"It appears till a provision for immunity is guaranteed for past acts of corruption, political parties will ensure CBI remains in government control," she said, adding it was now 'Save CBI' campaign.

The government may find it difficult to pass the Lokpal Bill in the Parliament if the Opposition continue to oppose it. The government has a majority in Lok Sabha but the Opposition can push for amendments in Rajya Sabha.


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