The BJP is determined to block the Prime Minister’s Office’s controversial move to appoint the first lokpal before Manmohan Singh demits office next month and could complain to the President if the UPA ignores its objections.
As first reported by HT on Friday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh intends to convene a meeting of the selection committee of the corruption watchdog on 27th or 28th April, depending on the convenience of Sushma Swaraj, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and committee member. Vidisha, Swaraj’s constituency, goes to the polls on April 24.
“The appointment of the lokpal in the midst of the general elections should be avoided,” BJP’s deputy leader in Rajya Sabha Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
BJP leaders pointed out that the election commission’s model code of conduct was in place and the lokpal was too crucial an appointment to be made by an outgoing government.
As things stand though, the model code of conduct might not be an obstacle for the government. A provision to the 2009 version of the poll code that barred the government from making appointments to statutory bodies such as the human rights commission was removed this time after the EC dismissed complaints about the UPA going ahead with a last-minute appointment to a statutory body.
That, however, leaves open the question of political legitimacy of the appointment that the BJP alleges is being pushed through only to help the UPA during its election campaign.
“Why should we legitimise appointments by a government standing on its last legs by being a part of the process?” said a BJP leader. He also pointed out that noted jurist Fali Nariman and former Supreme Court (SC) judge KT Thomas had raised “important questions” about the selection process.
These should be addressed before any appointments, he added. But if the government proposes someone with impeccable credentials, the BJP may be forced to rethink its strategy.
For now, the saffron party is taking an aggressive stance. “Once the party takes a call, we would not just stay away from the meeting but take the matter to the people and the President,” a BJP leader said.
The lokpal appointment has been controversial from the start. In February this year, Swaraj protested to President Pranab Mukherjee about her being overruled by “majority view”, after objecting to PP Rao’s nomination to the panel because he was “pro-Congress”. Her objection was overruled by three other members of the panel — the PM, the Lok Sabha speaker and justice HL Dattu nominated by the Chief Justice of India. The rules governing the appointment of the lokpal have also been challenged by an NGO before the SC with a fresh application being filed on Thursday “to put the entire selection process … in abeyance”.