Cong-civil society face-off worsens

Cong-civil society face-off worsens

Party says Hazare team trying to subvert democracy

Cong-civil society face-off worsens

A day after Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee hit out the civil society representatives, the Congress sought to further discredit them with party spokesman Manish Tewari saying: “The way things have unfolded over the past few days, shows there’s an attempt to subvert democracy.”

Tewari said that anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare was following a script written by others, a reference to the RSS and the BJP.

In Bangalore, AICC general secretary B K Hariprasad alleged that Lokayukta Justice (retd) Santosh Hegde had failed in his duty as the anti-corruption ombudsman in the state. Addressing reporters, Hariprasad alleged that Justice Hegde had not taken any steps against corruption and questioned his ability to be a member on the Lokpal bill drafting committee.

“He (Justice Hegde) has failed in his duties. Had he done his job properly, Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa would have lost his seat long ago,” he said.

In a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Hazare countered Tewari and Mukherjee’s charge, saying that the statements betrayed a “distorted understanding of democracy and arrogance of power”.

In his letter to Singh, Hazare, who is leading the civil society movement for a Lokpal bill jointly with activists of India Against Corruption, wondered why the five Union ministers, who are members on the bill drafting committee, unanimously feel that the prime minister should be kept out of the purview of the corruption ombudsman.

The letter said: “Till now the PM could be investigated by the CBI. Why should an honest Prime Minister like you be scared of being investigated by an independent Lokpal?”
The non-official members of the committee are on warpath with the government ever since their last meeting held on May 31 as the government opposed inclusion of the PM, higher judiciary and role of MPs inside Parliament under Lokpal.

Attacking the prime minister, RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal, who is also on the bill drafting committee, asked why Singh was shying away coming under the Lokpal. “Prime Minister must come under the ambit of Lokpal Bill. He is supposed to have critical information. Tomorrow if a Madhu Koda would become PM then a PM could become a security threat to the country,” Kejriwal said.

“Every activity of the PM can be investigated under the Prevention of Corruption Act. In order to take the PM out of the purview of the Lokpal, the government will have to amend the Constitution and grant him immunity similar to that enjoyed by the President,” noted advocate and another bill drafting committee member Prashant Bhushan said.

“Is the government planning to do that? Why? We thought we would get a better and stronger anti-corruption regime under your (Manmohan Singh) tenure. On the contrary, the government seems to be shrinking the scope of anti-corruption regime,” Bhushan and Kejriwal said.

In his missive to Singh, Hazare sought to expose the Finance Minister, pointing out that as the chairperson of the Standing Committee on Lokpal in 2001 during NDA regime, Mukherjee had recommended inclusion of the prime minister under the ambit of the Lokpal.

Kejriwal said while earlier Singh had said he will have no problem in being under the Lokpal his ministers are now saying otherwise. "Is there a disconnect between them?" Kejriwal asked.

On the allegations that Hazare was getting support from the BJP and the RSS, Kejriwal said it was “unfortunate” on the part of a senior minister like Mukherjee to raise such allegations without evidence. “I can also raise such baseless allegations but I won't stoop to such levels,” he said.

Dismissing the government’s stand that the prime minister would become dysfunctional if it was brought under the scanner of the Lokpal, the civil society leaders, referring to Singh, said: “You have worked with both Rajiv Gandhi and P V Narshimha Rao. Did you get a feeling that Gandhi, the then prime minister, became dysfunctional due to the Bofors probe? Did Rao become dysfunctional due to the probe in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha bribery case?”

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