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Questioning Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government's intent over their failure in appointing a Lokpal in four years of their rule so far, leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, the Congress party's Mallikarjun Kharge, on Wednesday declined the government's offer to attend the meeting of the Selection Committee for Lokpal appointment. Kharge revealed his decision, which he took because he had been invited as a "special invitee", in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday.
The Modi government had invited Kharge for Thursday's meeting of the Selection Committee as a special invitee. However, Kharge rebuffed the government's offer, stating his presence would have served only as a "mere eyewash". Further, Kharge said that the invitation a 'special invitee' was part of an effort to exclude the voice of the Opposition in the selection of the Lokpal.
The Centre had informed the Supreme Court last week that a meeting of the Selection Committee was scheduled to take place on March 1 to deliberate on the steps to be taken for the appointment of a Lokpal.
According to the Attorney General, the committee would comprise the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India, Lok Sabha Speaker, the leader of the largest Opposition party and an eminent jurist.
Here are the top 10 developments around Kharge's refusal to participate and the appointment of a Lokpal:
1) 'Govt trying to exclude Opposition's voice': Writing to the Prime Minister, Kharge said that in his opinion, and that of the entire Opposition and the Congress, the 'special invitee' invitation was a "concerted effort to exclude the independent voice of the Opposition altogether from the selection process of the most important anti-corruption watchdog".
Further, Kharge said it was "a matter of surprise" that the Modi government was "choosing to adopt this route as a mere formality on paper rather than seeking any meaningful and constructive participation".
2) 'Govt violating the norms': According to Kharge, the government's move violates the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, in letter and in spirit.
Further, Kharge pointed out that the leader of Opposition could not be called in as a 'special invitee'.
"It negates the letter and spirit of The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 in toto. A perusal simplicitor of the Lok Pal Act, 2013; its intent and objective reflects that 'Leader of Opposition' cannot be substituted as a 'Special Invitee'," Kharge wrote in his letter.
3) 'Mere eyewash': Hitting out at the government, the Congress leader said that his "mere presence" at the meeting in the capacity of a "special invitee" would be an "eyewash".
"My mere presence as a 'Special Invitee' without rights of participation, recording of opinion and voting would be a mere eyewash, ostensibly aimed at showcasing the participation of Opposition in the selection process," Kharge's letter read.
4) Kharge attacks Modi govt for delay in Lokpal appointment: Kharge did not stop there. Attacking the government's image as being tough on corruption and graft, the Congress leader asked the Centre why it had "chosen not to appoint a Lokpal for nearly four years".
"Let me also take this opportunity to speak truth to the power on behalf of all fellow Indians. Congress-led UPA passed the Lokpal Act, 2013, and had brought it into force w.e.f. January 16, 2014. Notwithstanding your repeated rhetoric to fight corruption, BJP government has chosen to not appoint a Lokpal for nearly four years. To anyone familiar with BJP Government's record in not establishing and preserving the office of the Lokayukta in Gujarat, this would not come as a surprise," Kharge said in his letter.
I am voice of all Opposition not just Congress. This bill continues to languish for want of appropriate intent, commitment and objectivity on part of the government. My presence without right of participation would be a mere eyewash: Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress pic.twitter.com/UCqRrmNLiF— ANI (@ANI) March 1, 2018
5) PM Modi should be more 'statesman-like': According to Kharge, "all Indians" view Thursday's meeting as a move meant only to satisfy the Supreme Court's order regarding the appointment of the Lokpal.
Saying more "statesman-like conduct" was expected from the Prime Minister, Kharge described the government's move to call him to the meeting as a special invitee as "myopic" and against "the spirit of nation-building".
"While all fellow Indians understand that the present meeting of 1st March has been called to satisfy the order of the Supreme Court of India dated 23rd February, 2018, vis-à-vis the appointment of the Lokpal, conduct of your government only seeks to diminish the spirit and objective of appointment of Lokpal in as much as you seek to deny participation, voice and opinion of the opposition," Kharge wrote, adding, "May I say that such myopic actions belie the spirit of nation building, more so while constituting an institution like the Lokpal. A more apt and statesman like conduct is expected from Prime Minister of the country."
6) Kharge asks govt to prove its seriousness: Calling upon the government to prove its seriousness in appointing a Lokpal "with the sanctity it deserves", he suggested that the Centre "bring in an ordinance in shape of the amending bill", which he had sent along with his letter, "and place the same before Parliament as it reopens in March, 2018".
7) 'Political pretence': According to Kharge, the government's actions have "reduced a sacred procedure to a political pretence". Therefore, he said, to uphold the inviolability of The Lokpal Act, 2013, he was declining the invite as 'special invitee'.
"I must end by reminding you about our solemn duty to never permit dilution of the provisions of The Lokpal Act, which was enacted with hopes and aspirations of millions of Indians as the highest body to fight graft and ensure accountability," Kharge's letter read.
8) PM to be selection committee's chairman: Last week, the Centre had informed the Supreme Court that a meeting of the Selection Committee was scheduled to take place on March 1 to deliberate on the steps to be taken for the appointment of a Lokpal. The committee would comprise of the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India, Lok Sabha Speaker, the leader of the largest Opposition party, and an eminent jurist, according to the Attorney General.
The jurist would be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Selection Committee, with the Prime Minister as its Chairman.
9) Hazare attacks BJP: Attacking the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre for not appointing a Lokpal, social activist Anna Hazare said on Wednesday he would raise this issue along with farmers' problems and the need for electoral reforms when he begins his 'Satyagraha' in the national capital on March 23.
"I will sit on a fast during the proposed Satyagraha at Ramlila maidan in New Delhi on March 23 to press for my demands", Hazare said.
10) Lokpal Act in brief: Under the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, ombudsmen are to be appointed at the Centre and in states for inquiring into allegations of corruption against public functionaries.