Government today dubbed as "political opportunism and double speak" the BJP's objection to exclusion of the office of Prime Minister from the ambit of lokpal, pointing out that the Lokayukta Act in states ruled by the party did not cover the chief ministers.
"The statement of the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha is a classic example of political opportunism. If the BJP is so concerned about lokpal, the states they are in power would have had a lokpal," telecom minister Kapil Sibal told reporters.
Home minister P Chidambaram said leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj made the statement objecting to provisions of the lokpal bill to make a political point. On Swaraj's argument that Pranab Mukherjee, as chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, had included Prime Minister in the ambit of the lokpal, Chidambaram said the NDA, which was in power for two years after the report was submitted, should have got the Bill passed in Parliament.
"Mukherjee had submitted the report of the Standing Committee on February 16, 2002. The NDA had two years and two months to get the Bill passed in Parliament. They did not," he said. Sibal questioned why there was no lokayukta in Gujarat from 2003 to 2011. He said the then Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel had appointed a lokayukta in the state in 1998 and the term of the ombudsman ended in 2003. "From 2003 to 2011, there has been no lokayukta in Gujarat. If the leader of the opposition is so concerned that the people's grievances be addressed, the BJP should have asked the chief minister to appoint a lokayukta," Sibal said.
Sibal said in BJP-ruled states of Uttarakhand and Jharkhand, and in Bihar where the party is part of the ruling coalition, the office of the chief minister has been excluded from the ambit of the lokayukta.
"How can the BJP on the one hand in states where they are in government allow the office of the chief minister to be excluded and not say or do anything about it for years and suddenly one fine morning rise up in the Lok Sabha and say that the office of the Prime Minister be included (in the ambit of Lokpal). It is a classic example of double standards and double speak," Sibal said.
On Swaraj's argument of the constitutional objection to the bill, Chidambaram said the whether a provision of law violates Article 14 cannot be decided in Parliament. "Well that is an arguable issue whether a provision of law violates Article 14 cannot be decided in Parliament.
That can be decided only if challenged in the court of law," Chidambaram said. "Article 14 does not prohibit reasonable classification and the office of Prime Minister stands in a class by itself. That is the obvious self-evident answer to that question," he said.
"That legal argument is not sustainable from any standpoint. But apart from that, if that were the case it applies to the office of the chief minister of the state which have been kept out from the ambit of lokayukta by BJP-ruled states," Sibal said. Minister of State in the PMO, V Narayansamy, said the UPA government had kept its promise of introducing the lokpal bill in the Monsoon Session of Parliament. It would be the government's endeavour to steer the bill in the Standing Committee and get it passed in Parliament as soon as possible, he said.