Despite public perception swinging against the government UPA Remains Obdurate
Unwilling to remain defensive and on the backfoot over issues of corruption the UPA leadership while being under pressure from various party MPs to give in to some of the demands of the opposition and bring out what looks like a tough Lokpal Bill, has also sent the signal that the government is not in a mood to protect the corrupt by bringing in anti-graft legislation.
Before the Lokpal Bill is given a final shape, the union cabinet has passed four key bills which deal with corruption. They are the Judicial Accountability Bill, the Citizen’s Charter Bill, the Whistleblowers Bill and the Money Laundering Bill. The bills are meant to send the loud and clear message that while Anna Hazare and political parties are making a great deal of noise over corruption, the government is going ahead to pass key legislation which will bring in the loop various sections of the people.
The Prime Minister who appears to have become a great deal wiser after being hit by the FDI in retail bomb is now keen to bring various key stakeholders on board to seek consultation. After a Congress core committee which met to discuss the various provisions of the Lokpal Bill, the government called a meeting of UPA allies, which for the first time Ajit Singh also attended, after formally becoming a member of the UPA. He has however still not taken an oath of ministership. Meanwhile an all-party meeting was held.
Sources say that at the all-party meeting, the government put forward proposals which made it difficult for the Opposition not to support the Lokpal Bill, an issue which has put the government under the microscope for far too long. However, the consensus eluded the meeting.
It is learnt that the government is willing to bring the Prime Minister under the Lokpal but with certain conditions which was discussed in the UPA meeting. Along with this the lower judiciary is also likely to be included, which will also address the demand as articulated by Anna Hazare.
The problem of the CBI still remains unsolved. Anna Hazare wants the CBI to report to the Lokpal but the government is working on the BJP not to press for this as this will create problems for the premier investigative agency. The BJP leaders have also said that they want the CBI to function independently and be out of government control. There is a suggestion that the CBI should inform the Lokpal about its actions but the views on the CBI are still mixed up and no clear consensus has emerged.
After the UPA and all-party meeting, the union cabinet is likely to meet either on Sunday or Monday morning after the return of the Prime Minister from Russia when the cabinet will clear the bill after which it will be placed before the House, possibly by December 20. The winter session ends on December 22, which does not give the government much time within which to pass it in both the Houses and make it a law.
Anna Hazare has promised to sit on a fast from December 27, if the Lokpal Bill is not passed and this could create another explosive situation for the government if the Lokpal Bill is not passed.
What was significant on Sunday was how the Opposition political parties from the Right to the Left, ended Anna Hazare’s political isolation and embraced him, virtually anointing him the leader in the fight against the graft. While the main aim was to hit out at Congress and isolate it, the political parties in the process gave Anna Hazare the political legitimacy that he was craving and which was denied to him when he was leading a rag-tag group of persons of dubious intent and reputation who themselves had many skeletons in their cupboard.
By sharing the same dias with Anna Hazare, leaders from the NDA as well as Left, sent out the political message that they were willing to be led by a man who had pretensions of being Gandhi but who did not believe in democratic principles and functioning and wanted the people to make laws and not Parliament.
It is interesting that LK Advani and those leaders known to be close to him in the BJP like Sushma Swaraj and Venkaiah Naidu stayed away from the Hazare show. According to a senior leader it was almost like NDA parties had accepted Hazare as the chairman of the NDA. A big surpise amongst the visitors was Sharad Yadav who in the past had been both angry and vocal against union ministers for allowing Hazare so much of leeway and for not being able to control him. The same Sharad Yadav also made a beeline for Anna Hazare.
While Congress has once again repeated that Hazare is working on the political agenda of the BJP-RSS to destabilise a democratically elected government, it is significant that the Left parties, whose space is shrinking also decided to ride piggy back on the Hazare bandwagon.
From the CPI(M), Brinda Karat shared the dais with Anna Hazare and BJP leaders like Arun Jaitley and other NDA leaders like Sharad Yadav.
The aim and the attempt was to obviously isolate the Congress party and hit out at the Congress-led UPA on issues of graft. It looked as though the Opposition is desperate to bring down the UPA government and in the process they looked as though they have no objections to accepting the leadership of Anna Hazare. The Left has been left rootless and baseless and is looking at new moorings with which to attach itself. Under the leadership of Prakash Karat, the CPI(M) has had no qualms about endorsing the agenda of a man who is trying to make himself look and feel like Mahatma Gandhi but minus the belief in democracy and the might of Parliament.
After taking a hard position alongside Anna and against the Congress, the BJP is finding it difficult to retract from some of its positions, knowing full well that the demands of Hazare and company can create a Lokpal monster which can destabilise the existing system. It could be a case of having the chickens come home to roost, if the BJP-led NDA comes to power at the Centre, when they experience firsthand the problems of letting outsiders dictate policy decisions.
But with public perceptions swinging against the government and an anti-corruption framework having been created through an obliging media, a large section of Congress is asking its leadership to agree to various suggestions for the Lokpal Bill since the party can now at this stage ill afford to send the message that it is trying to protect the corrupt in any way.
By Renu Mittal