The government Thursday stuck to its promise by introducing the much-debated anti-graft Lokpal bill in the Lok Sabha, which predictably elicited protests from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and civil society activists led by Anna Hazare for excluding the prime minister from its ambit.
The bill, which was approved by the union cabinet last month, was introduced by Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office V. Narayanasamy after the government rejected BJP leader Sushma Swaraj’s opposition.
Before the introduction of the bill, Speaker Meira Kumar gave permission to Sushma Swaraj, leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha, to express her views as a special case under Rule 72.
Swaraj demanded that the prime minister be brought within the anti-corruption law’s ambit even while he or she held office.
“While all other laws such as the penal code and the Prevention of Corruption Act are applicable to all, why should the Lokpal bill exclude the prime minister? Also, when the bill covers the council of ministers, how is the prime minister different?” she wanted to know.
“I cannot understand how anyone, sitting in any position, be a holy cow? Why is the prime minister out of it?” she asked.
“I am happy the prime minister himself said that it is okay if he is brought within the ambit of the Lokpal bill. Then why is the cabinet not paying heed to him, and his colleagues are opposing it?” she added.
The BJP leader asked the government to amend the draft legislation to bring the prime minister under the draft law’s purview and bring it back to the house. “Then, we will support it and get it passed in the house,” she said.
Narayanasamy defended the introduction of the bill, saying it had become the property of the house now. He also said the draft law will be immediately sent to the parliamentary standing committee.
The proposed legislation does not bring under its purview the prime minister when he holds office. But once he demits office, he or she can be investigated for any wrongdoing as prime minister. It also excludes from the Lokpal’s ambit the judiciary and any action of an MP in parliament or any parliamentary committee.
Replying to the BJP statement that former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had agreed to be within the anti-corruption law’s ambit, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said it was placed in parliament in 2002. “You had two years… Why did you not get this bill passed for two years?” he asked Sushma Swaraj.
The bill sparked furious protests from civil society representatives led by Gandhian activist Anna Hazare, who burnt copies of the bill in Maharashtra’s Ralegaon Siddhi. Some of Hazare’s supporters, including Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Kiran Bedi, led the protest in Uttar Pradesh’s Kaushambi area in Ghaziabad.
An incensed Hazare thundered that it was the last chance to eradicate corruption from the country and that protests should be organised all over the country to ensure that a strong lokpal bill is brought in.
“This is a bad and weak bill… which is introduced in parliament. We need a new and strong bill. I trusted them when they said they will bring a strong law and ended my fast in April. They cheated me,” he said.
Hazare vowed to go on fast from Aug 16 and warned that he will not withdraw from fast on any assurances.
Kejriwal slammed the bill as “anti-poor and anti-Dalit” and contended that by bringing a “weak” Lokpal bill, the government was challenging the countrymen.
The government promptly denounced the burning of the copies of the bill, saying it was an affront to parliament.
“It’s an insult and an affront to parliament,” Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal told reporters during a briefing by the group of ministers on media which included Narayanasamy and Home Minister P. Chidambaram.
Sibal and Chidambaram also accused the BJP of “double standards” for opposing the Lokpal bill and pointed out that the chief minister was excluded from the purview of the lokayukta in the BJP-ruled states.
“We want to ask why (there is) no lokayukta in Gujarat? It’s a classic example of double standards and double speech,” Sibal told reporters.
“It is our intention to get the bill passed as soon as possible,” Chidambaram said.