New Delhi: Leaders of various political parties on Sunday came out strongly in support of social activist Anna Hazare, who was on a day-long fast for a strong anti-corruption Lokpal that would include the Prime Minister and entire bureaucracy under its purview.
But the support to the 74-year-old anti-graft crusader, protesting in the heart of the capital, came with a word of caution. Hazare was asked not to be rigid about acceptance of his Jan Lokpal bill and not to expect parliament to accept every single word of his proposed ombudsman law.
Thousands flocked to the venue, Jantar Mantar, against what Hazare believes is a toothless Lokpal recommended by a parliamentary standing committee.
They were joined in by Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Arun Jaitley, Communist Party of India-Marxist’s (CPI-M) Brinda Karat, CPI’s A.B. Bardhan, Sharad Yadav of the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and other leaders of regional parties, including Samajwadi Party, the Biju Janata Dal, the Akali Dal and the Telugu Desam Party.
In unison, the politicians favoured a strong Lokpal bill to fight corruption in India and trashed the recommendations of the parliamentary panel.
Jaitley like others accused the panel of going against the sense of the parliament and demanded that the Prime Minister, the CBI and the lower bureaucracy be brought under the purview of a proposed ombudsman.
“We demand everybody who is in the government should come under the purview of Lokpal. We oppose the Prime Minister’s non-inclusion in the Lokpal bill (as recommended by the panel),” Jaitley said.
CPI general secretary Bardhan said his party was in agreement with Team Anna on several issues but cautioned against the rigidity on absolute acceptance of their version of the bill.
“Don’t expect that every word, full stop and comma of Jan Lokpal bill will be accepted, be flexible. You should also have the patience to listen to others,” Bardhan said.
This led to howls of protest by the crowds which were repeated when other politicians also cautioned Hazare against his rigid stance.
JD-U leader Sharad Yadav lashed out at the parliamentary panel and accused it of neglecting the sense of the house that was adopted in a resolution after Hazare’s August hunger strike.
The resolution said: “The house agrees ‘in principle’ on a strong Lokpal with provisions for Citizen’s Charter, setting up of Lokayuktas, and including entire bureaucracy under the ombudsman through an appropriate mechanism.”
Yadav said the panel has proposed a weak Lokpal by excluding lower bureaucracy from its purview. The panel has also left for parliament to decide on bringing the Prime Minister under Lokpal.
CPI-M’s Karat agreed that the recommendations of the panel were weak and “are equivalent to not having the Lokpal at all”.
She asked, “what kind of drama was it to go against the resolution?”
The Congress had refused to join Sunday’s debate, saying Lokpal “cannot be framed in Jantar Mantar”.
The ruling party termed the hunger strike as ‘preemptive’ and ‘premature’ and an ‘insult to parliament’.
“The Lokpal bill report has been submitted. There will be debate and decision will be taken. Laws cannot be made at Jantar Mantar,” Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi said.
Hazare, winding up the debate and ending his token fast, threatened to intensify protests across the country if his version of the Lokpal was not accepted by parliament. He said his supporters will court arrest if the bill was not passed in the winter session.
The Indian government has called an all-party meeting on Wednesday to reach a consensus on the Lokpal bill, which seeks to end corruption at various levels of the government.
In Hazare’s village Ralegan-Siddhi in Maharashtra, residents observed a total shutdown. Hundreds sat on a token fast.