May 28 2020
Team Hazare and BJP divided over Lokpal bill draft
01 July 2011

Two days before the government has called an all-party meeting on the contentious Lokpal Bill, the principal Opposition party found itself in a peculiar position in the Anna Hazare versus government debate as the self-styled civil society representatives were out of sync with it.

It does not suit the BJP to pull the government out of the mess it created by engaging the activists and keeping all political parties out of the drafting of the legislation so far. At the same time, strong differences surfaced between the BJP and Anna Hazare's team about critical provisions in the activists' draft of the Bill on Friday.

The BJP, for instance, does not want MPs' conduct in Parliament and the state leaders to be brought under the Lokpal's purview. Anna Hazare and his team Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia and Kiran Bedi - held detailed discussions on Friday afternoon with the BJP brass - L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh, Ravi Shankar Prasad et al - on the activists' version of the Lokpal draft.

Though the BJP assured the "civil society" members that it was fully committed to the creation of a strong and credible Lokpal, the party had reservations about their draft.

Among the clauses that the BJP raised its objections to were creation of state Lokayuktas through the same legislation, including MPs' conduct within Parliament in the ambit of the Lokpal, process of appointment of the Lokpal itself as well as bringing the judiciary within its purview.

The BJP could generate some more heat on the most contentious clause in the activists' Bill i.e. inclusion of the Prime Minister in its ambit. While the party did not clarify its position on this clause, sources said that there were "strong voices" within the party for including the PM in the Lokpal. "We will take a view after the meeting of the NDA. But a lot of us feel that the PM should be included (in the Lokpal)," said a BJP leader.

However, the BJP definitely did not want to be seen as opposing the activists as they reflect the populist sentiment against corruption.

So, seasoned politician that he is, Advani asked his party leaders to "seek clarifications" instead of countering Anna and his group. For the purpose of asking pointed questions on specific clauses, the BJP team had as many as three lawyers - Jaitley, Swaraj and Prasad.

As per Advani's instructions, the atmospherics were duly described by Jaitley as "conducive" to creating a strong Lokpal.

"They have made a presentation to us. We sought clarifications. All of us are committed to a strong anti-corruption legislation," he said. However, even Jaitley could not deny that there were "many a Constitutional hurdles" in activists' framework.

"Can you have the same law that envisages grant of police powers to an agency for the Centre and the state? We have sought a clarification from them on this. As Shanti and Prashant Bhushan are abroad, they will consult them and get back to us," said Jaitley.

"There are concerns about the mechanism for appointment of the Lokpal as well," said the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha.

According to party general secretary and senior spokesperson Prasad, anything that interferes with the federal structure of the country, is not acceptable to the BJP.

"Law and order and the police are strictly state subjects. The UPA has given us no reason to believe that the creation of an agency with police powers will not be misused to target Opposition-led states. We have strong disagreement on this clause," said Prasad.

The BJP's other major concern was whether the MPs would continue to enjoy the legal immunity they do for acts done in Parliament once the Lokpal is appointed. "The conduct of MPs within Parliament cannot be probed by the Lokpal," said Jaitley. The party spokesperson too voiced the views reflected by Jaitley. "How can you take away my freedom to speak on any issue? We do not agree," said Prasad.

The activists conceded that they were grilled thoroughly by the BJP leaders. "We were asked whether constitutionally, it is possible to have the Lokpal and Lokayukta under the same Bill and about Article 105 (2) of the Constitution (which deals with immunity to MPs for their actions in Parliament). There were a lot of technical questions which were asked," said Kejriwal.

So, while politically, the BJP will be seen playing ball with the activists, it is definitely not going to cede much ground. It suits the BJP presently to create an atmosphere of suspicion about their stand because it keeps the government on tenterhooks about the fate of the legislation.

A meeting of the NDA has been convened on Saturday to evolve a common strategy before the all-party meeting over the issue on Sunday. A vague statement is
expected after the meeting because politically, isolating the Congress is the only strategy that makes sense for the principal opposition party.



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