With the draft lokpal bill approved by the cabinet on Thursday ignoring key demands raised by the Anna Hazare's team, the stage is set for a fresh round of confrontation between the government and the anti-corruption crusader.
The government stuck to its publicly declared stand of excluding the prime minister and the higher judiciary from the purview of the proposed anti-graft ombudsman, drawing a sharp reaction from Hazare, who called it a ‘cruel joke’ and said he will again go on a fast from August 16.
The BJP and the Left demanded that the PM be brought under the lokpal, hinting at rough weather for the government in the monsoon session of Parliament, during which the government promised to table the bill.
The bill was not in the original agenda for Thursday’s cabinet meeting. It was included late Wednesday night. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh volunteered to be brought under the lokpal, but his cabinet colleagues except rural development minister Jairam Ramesh didn’t agree.
“The PM was heard with great respect but the ministers discussed the pitfalls of such a proposal including its possible adverse effect on the stability of a government,” information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni said after the meeting.
“This is cheating -- not just with Anna Hazare but with the entire nation. We will sit on a fast in Jantar Mantar from August 16. I will fast until my last breath,” Hazare said.
The government played down the differences with the civil society activists. “I am surprised that they (Hazare team) don't recognise the good work they have done themselves, but just criticise us,” said law minister Salman Khursheed. He said 34 of the 40 principles suggested by Hazare team have been accepted by the government.
This, however, failed to convince Hazare’s team, with lawyer Prashant Bhushan saying the government had come out with a ‘sarkari’ lokpal.
“The government’s decision to exclude the PM from the lokpal would not stand the scrutiny of courts. This bill will be struck down by the Supreme Court within a minute if they give immunity to the PM,” Bhushan said.
He said it was an “absurd proposition” to suggest that corruption by a PM would be tackled only after he demits office.
“Who is advising this government? There are senior ministers who are lawyers also, but they seemed to have displayed total illiteracy of constitutional law,” Bhushan said.
“The BJP does not appreciate the complete omission of the PM from the draft lokpal bill, the PM should come under lokpal,”BJP general secretary Ravishankar Prasad said.
CPM leader Brinda Karat also questioned the exclusion of the PM. “We don’t understand why because since 1989 every single proposal had prime minister’s office in the lokpal bill," she said.