Govt, Anna, Aruna versions before MPs; PM’s impassioned speech unites House; Anna to end fast only if consensus.
History was made twice on Thursday. A powerful appeal in the Lok Sabha by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, supported by leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj and endorsed by Speaker Meira Kumar, urged activist Anna Hazare to break his fast. Such unity has been rare in Parliament. The fasting activist demanded the Jan Lok Pal Bill be discussed in Parliament on Friday, which the government agreed to in an unprecedented move.
But, Hazare said he would end his fast only when there was a consensus between the government and the Opposition on a strong Lok Pal Bill, with three safeguards: all government servants including the lower bureaucracy should come under the Lok Pal, the states must have Lok Ayuktas; and a citizens’ charter must ensure delivery of services. This means despite a climbdown by the government in agreeing to discuss the Bill, its central problem — Hazare’s fast — continues at least till Friday, possibly beyond. Hazare warned even after a consensus, he would stay on at Ramlila Maidan till the Bill was passed, even if it took months.
Three proposals — the Jan Lok Pal Bill drafted by the Hazare group, the Bill drafted by social activists led by Aruna Roy, and the government’s Lok Pal Bill — will be discussed tomorrow and, possibly, even on Saturday. Whether two others — a Bill drafted by Dalit leader Udit Raj and another by NGO Lok Satta’s leader Jayaprakash Narayan — will also be taken up is not clear.
This decision was taken amid deep concern over the implications of Hazare’s deteriorating health, although MP after MP said it was the job of Parliament to make laws, not social activists.
“The next time a group gets 200,000 people to Delhi and says ‘stop Scheduled Caste reservations’, will the government agree? It is Parliament and the Constitution that are supreme, not people assembled in maidans,” said Dalit leader Ramvilas Paswan.
But all leaders agreed the PM’s speech —extempore and deeply moving — created the badly needed political consensus and united the political class into backing the government.
“All I can say is if any wrong has been done by me, I invite the leader of the Opposition to look at my property which I may have accumulated in the last 41 years. I would accept the verdict of the leader of the Opposition if they find that I have used public office to amass wealth for myself or for any member of my family,” he said.
Singh said in the course of seven years as Prime Minister, he may have made mistakes. “Who is above making mistakes? To err is human but to accuse me of evil intentions, of conniving in corruption, is a charge I firmly repudiate,” the Prime Minister said.“I request all members of the House to join me in making an appeal to Anna Hazare that he has made his point. I respect his idealism. I respect him as an individual. He has become the embodiment of our people’s disgust and concern about tackling corruption. I applaud him, I salute him. His life is much too precious and, therefore, I would urge Shri Anna Hazare to end his fast.”
After the Parliament resolution, the government sent former Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh as an emissary to meet Hazare and convey to him the feelings of Parliament. Hazare and his core team in the civil society platform, India Against Corruption, discussed the Prime Minister’s proposition at a meeting. After that, Hazare made his stand clear: “Start discussions in Parliament on this topic. At least, bring the issue in Parliament. If there is a consensus, I will think of ending my fast,” he said.
Spelling out his conditions he said: “We want everyone in the government to come under the Lok Pal. A citizens’ charter should be prepared and the properties of family members found involved in corruption should be attached. And every state should have a Lok Ayukta.”
Hazare had little time for the PM’s ‘salute’: “The Prime Minister has said he is concerned about my health. I ask where were you for the last 10 days? For six months, we have been trying to talk to you. Why don’t the Opposition parties speak?”
This was then drafted as a letter and sent to the PM through Deshmukh.
Top government sources said other demands of the Hazare team — that the Lok Pal Bill include the CBI and the PM, and a separate Bill for the judiciary — were settled at the contentious meeting of the Hazare committee with finance minister Pranab Mukherjee yesterday.
The government noted at that meeting there were strong differences between Kiran Bedi and other members of India Against Corruption, including Arvind Kejriwal, at that meeting. In fact, when Bedi tried to argue with the finance minister, she was told by her team to calm down. It was after their return from North Block, where they met Mukherjee, that Hazare announced he wanted to have direct talks with the government. Congress sources interpreted this as differences in tactics between team members.
However, core committee member in India Against Corruption, Devender Sharma, told Business Standard the government had won hands down while their struggle had been a failure.
“We have actually achieved nothing. There is no assurance that anything in the Jan Lok Pal Bill will ever be incorporated,” he said.
The biggest achievement had been the large mobilisation of the masses and the emergence of Anna Hazare as the tallest hero of the times, he added.