Wednesday, 8 June 2011

No respite for govt as Anna Hazare to sit on one-day fast today

No respite for govt as Anna Hazare to sit on one-day fast today

NEW DELHI: The Anna Hazare group on Tuesday reversed its decision to boycott deliberations on the drafting of the Lokpal bill, in a manoeuvre designed to deny the government an easy escape route in the confrontation over the powers and jurisdiction of the anti-graft ombudsman.

The decision to return to the negotiating table was conveyed to finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and came within a day of HRD minister Kapil Sibal's public declaration that the government would go ahead with preparing the draft Lokpal bill by June 30, irrespective of the participation of the Hazare camp. While the government can take satisfaction that the boycott is over, the flip side is that civil society's involvement in framing the Lokpal legislation will ensure that the government gets no walkover on the bill. Also, it will see the slugfest over the demands of activists continuing in a season when the focus is on scams.

The return of the Hazare group does not signal an end to hostilities as the activists, who are to stage a day-long fast today to express solidarity with Baba Ramdev, have not resiled from their position as well as the charge that the government is engaged in duplicity. In fact, in their letter to Mukherjee, the group asked the government to spell out the reasons it did not favour live telecast of the proceedings of the Lokpal panel.

The letter to the FM from Shanti Bhushan also signals that there will be no let-up in the battle on the sticking points—bringing the PM, higher judiciary, the CBI and the conduct of MPs inside Parliament under the jurisdiction of the Lokpal bill.

The next round of talks is slated to be held on June 15.

The Hazare group stayed away from the Lokpal panel meeting on Monday to protest against the midnight police raid on Ramdev's camp at Ramlila Maidan. The Raj Ghat protest has been organized as part of the solidarity with the yoga guru, and presents the government with a powerful front of civil society activists who, between them, claim to represent a sprawling social constituency straddling the hugely influential middle classes as well as Ramdev's own base drawn from small towns and villages in the north.

Significantly, the solidarity is enduring despite the Congress's full-scale campaign painting Ramdev as a surrogate for "communal forces". The alleged saffron leanings of the Ramdev camp has been a major issue with many in the Hazare group.

"Our focus is the Lokpal bill and we do not want that to be lost in subsequent development. But we will protest against the police atrocities at Ramlila Maidan because these are related issues—corruption by the government and its crackdown on people peacefully protesting against it," said Lokpal committee member Arvind Kejriwal. Denying that the members had wanted to quit the panel, he said, "We had some concerns which we had explained in the letter. But neither do we want to quit the panel nor do we want to get into unnecessary confrontation with the government."

Shanti Bhushan's hard-hitting letter, which asks for copies of audio recordings of the deliberations of the panel, strongly justifies civil society's stand on the contentious issues, picking up instances from the Congress's and the UPA's past. The letter says, "The government feels that the ongoing investigations will make a prime minister 'dysfunctional'. So, did Mr Rajiv Gandhi become 'dysfunctional' after investigations started in th eBofors case? Did Mr Narasimha Rao become 'dysfunctional' due to investigations in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha case?"

The letter also asks whether the government will now seek a constitutional amendment to provide immunity to the prime minister, stressing that neither does the Constitution guarantee it nor is it the practice in any country around the world. "What if Mr Madhu Koda or A Raja became the prime minister of this country? A prime minister enjoying complete immunity from any kind of investigations will himself become the biggest security threat," he wrote.

On the issue of horse trading, the letter asked why more than three years after the trust vote, nothing had emerged out of the police investigation under the control of the UPA. "Should we expect the Speaker to award punishment to her own party colleagues?" it said. Describing the judgment of the Supreme Court in the JMM case as "patently wrong", Bhushan has written that the bill will legislatively overrule the judgment.

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