Why was civil society involved in law making, opposition asks government

New Delhi:  A united opposition Wednesday castigated the government for undermining parliament and including social activist Anna Hazare and his team in the anti-graft Lokpal Bill drafting committee.

Speaking in a discussion in the Lok Sabha on the arrest and subsequent release of Hazare and his supporters, opposition MPs also criticized the government for disallowing his planned mass hunger strike demanding a stronger anti-corruption bill.

Hazare is holding the second round of his hunger strike. He led a mass protest in April that was called off after the government included him and four of his top aides in a committee to draw up the Lokpal Bill. But the two sides fell out soon after differences between them and the government eventually tabled its version of the bill in parliament earlier this month.

Opposition MPs lashed out at the government for overlooking the elected representatives and having “so-called civil society members” in drafting the bill, which they said was primarily the job of elected lawmakers.

Speaking during the heated debate, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad said the fight against the corruption “doesn’t belong to Anna Hazare-ji”.

“I respect Anna but there can be no second Gandhi or Jayaprakash Narayan,” he said.

He said if people other than the elected representatives were allowed to make and frame laws, a day may come when parliament would be padlocked.

“Parliament is supreme, the supreme law-making institution in the country… Nobody can give us (lawmakers) dictation that we should do this or we would do that.”

He criticised the Anna Hazare team for tarnishing the image of politicians and disparaging them. “They even burnt the draft (Lokpal) bill. This is parliament’s property.”

He said the Lokpal Bill was with the standing committee, of which he is a member. “We called Anna Hazare in our first meeting and listened to him and told him we will call him again. But they hurried for the Aug 16 programme.”

Gurudas Dasgupta of the Communist Party of India (CPI) said parliament “is absolutely supreme” to make laws. “Nobody should put the elected MPs under any kind pressure.”

He said the government had a “hand in the creation of somebody’s larger than life status”, referring to the popularity Hazare has gained across the country.

He said the government had “diluted” the parliamentary system. “Why did it become necessary for the government to form a drafting committee with civil society as its members? We were not consulted,” the communist leader said.

Dasgupta said the decision to disallow Hazare from holding protests and arresting him was not of the police but of the government. “Why is the police commissioner being made the scapegoat? A morally defeated government cannot take the responsibility of its own work.”

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sushma Swaraj also spoke in the same voice.

“We are with the parliamentary process. We won’t allow anybody to undermine parliamentary democracy. But civil rights are above all. The country is free. I reject your policy of curbing citizen rights,” Sushma Swaraj, the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha, said.

She said Anna had told her that the government was averse to having the opposition in the drafting committee. The charge was denied by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is the leader of the house.

“I told Anna I am unable to call him in the all-party meeting (over the Lokpal Bill). I asked him to meet opposition parties separately,” an angry Mukherjee retorted when BJP leader L.K. Advani asked him to explain why the opposition had been overlooked.

“Tell me one instance where there have been five ministers and five so-called civil society members drafting a bill,” Advani asked.

Basudeb Acharia of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) said Left favoured the prime minister under the purview of the Lokpal.

Acharia said the government had “lost the capability of the state craft, lost the capability to rule”.

“People have the right to protest. You cannot take it away,” he said.

Replying to the charges, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal said the government had accommodated civil society members “as a unique experiment that was not unconstitutional”.

It didn’t work, he said, asking the house to “send a message that anybody who is not an MP has no right to impose his or her version of thelaw” on parliament. (IANS)