The UPA position against bringing the Prime Minister under the Lokpal is not cast in stone. It could, if the need arises, become flexible for a meeting ground with the Opposition and civil society groups.
This was disclosed to HT by sources privy to the government’s thinking. For the present, the strategy is to wait and watch the extent and reach of Anna Hazare’s agitation for acceptance of his draft Jan Lokpal bill. Contending versions by other activists will also require discussion.
The government’s draft before the parliamentary standing committee provides for the PM’s deferred (post resignation or completion of tenure) accountability to the lokpal. For a bipartisan agreement, the government could agree to the ombudsman’s real-time jurisdiction over the PM — excluding matters relating to public order, national security and foreign policy and putting in place robust safeguards against inspired complaints.
The BJP also supports bringing the PM under the Lokpal barring sensitive areas of national defence and security. Dr Manmohan Singh did not disfavour this line but went along with the advice of his Cabinet that cleared a draft that kept the PM out of the ambit of the proposed anti-corruption institution.
In his first remarks after Hazare’s fast at the Ramlila Maidan here, the PM reaffirmed his commitment to a “strong and effective” lokpal. Even Congress MP and chairman of the parliamentary panel studying the bill, Abhishek Manu Singhvi underscored the need for a balanced law while seeking suggestions from the civil society.
The problem however is that stakeholders have different yardsticks for what would make the lokpal strong, effective and balanced. The UPA’s isolation on keeping the PM out is near-complete with the BJP, Left and several other parties in disagreement.
Likewise, there are few takers for Anna’s bid to bring the judiciary and members of parliament under the lokpal. Other major sticking points relate to the watch dog’s writ over the lower bureaucracy and the CBI’s anti-graft wing.
The logjam cannot be broken without talks that are structured to address each aspect of the proposed legislation.
But first, there will have to be an agreement on the draft that is negotiable.
Anna’s team has been lampooning the government’s bill and the latter their overtly ambitious version.