After waiting for two days, Anna Hazare finally met Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Saturday to press for the inclusion of the prime minister and higher judiciary in the lokpal bill and the presentation of a “proper draft” in Parliament.
The meeting came a day ahead of the all-party meeting called by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to arrive at a consensus on the legislation to set up the lokpal.
Hazare said once the “proper draft” was placed in Parliament, he would accept its decision. But Gandhi, accompanied by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, Mohsina Kidwai and Janardan Dwivedi, reportedly remained noncommittal, saying she would discuss the issues with her colleagues.
Hazare later announced that he would begin his fast on August 16 if a “proper draft” was not placed in Parliament. “If they send a wrong draft, what kind of discussion will take place?”
Although Hazare did not elaborate on what he meant by “proper”, civil society representatives in the joint drafting committee would like the draft to spell out their views also on the inclusion of the PM and the higher judiciary.
Meanwhile, the CPI(M), spelling out its charter for the all-party meeting, supported the inclusion of the prime minister under the purview of the lokpal and called for amending article 105 of the Constitution to bring MPs under anti-corruption scrutiny.
Principal opposition BJP still remained ambivalent on the contentious provisions of the bill.
It, however, confirmed that it would participate in the meeting, but respond only to the cabinet-approved draft legislation that would be placed in Parliament.
Key UPA leaders, including West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee – still a Lok Sabha member – will not come to the all-party meet. Her party will be presented by first-time Lok Sabha MP Kalyan Banerjee.
Mamata Banerjee, who had already sent her party’s views earlier, said she wanted a “strong” lokpal bill without bringing the prime minister under its purview. Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad — two outside supporters of the UPA – will also not attend the meeting.
In all, 58 MPs were invited to attend the meeting from the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. Most of the absentee leaders have already written to Pranab Mukherjee, chairman of the joint drafting committee, about their positions on the bill.