Parliament bows to aam aadmi

Last Updated: Sat, Aug 27, 2011 18:50 hrs

Both Houses come together to pass a resolution on stronger Lok Pal, Anna to end fast at 10 am today

Social activist Anna Hazare will break his fast against corruption at 10 am tomorrow. This comes following a resolution passed in Parliament seeking a strong and effective Lok Pal. It also urged the Standing Committee to look at the issue of a Citizens’ Charter (i.e. provision of facilities to citizens within a defined time frame and strong penalties for errant officials), an appropriate authority to address corruption by lower bureaucrats and the establishment of Lok Ayuktas in states.

“Parliament today passed a resolution on the three issues you mentioned in your letter. After the resolution, there was consensus on the three issues — grievance redressal, lower bureaucracy under Lok Pal and setting-up of Lok Ayuktas in every state. Parliament has also decided that today’s proceedings will be sent to the Standing Committee,” a letter from the Prime Minister, which was delivered by Science and Technology Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh said. Earlier, both Houses of Parliament passed the resolution via voice vote, amid extraordinary accommodation shown by both government and Opposition.

“This is half-victory. Tomorrow at 10, I will break my fast,” Hazare said late evening.

The two sides — the Opposition and the government — came midway to address the three sticking points. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Arun Jaitley, for instance, criticised the Jan Lok Pal Bill for having provisions to intercept telephone communication of ministers and the Prime Minister, placing on record that the BJP did not agree with all provisions of the Jan Lok Pal Bill of Anna Hazare supporters.

Predictably, the BJP asked the Prime Minister to be included in Lok Pal with certain exclusions; asked that the judiciary be brought within the ambit of a National Judicial Commission and asked for autonomy of the Central Bureau of Investigation that Sushma Swaraj called the Congress Bachao Institution for the way it has been used against critics of the Congress, like in the case of Jagan Mohan Reddy, invoked at the precise time he turned against the party.

Swaraj said the Lok Pal Bill had been brought nine times in Parliament — 1968, 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001 — and the current one. “Every idea has a time. The time of Lok Pal has come”. She said the Prime Minister should be brought under Lok Pal but the decisions taken by him in matters of national security and public order should be out of its purview.

Swaraj also said an MP’s conduct inside Parliament should be out of the Lok Pal’s ambit. She supported all the three points in the resolution — citizens’ charter, Lok Ayukta in states and coverage of lower bureaucracy in the Lok Pal.

Congress leader Sandeep Dikshit said there must be some mechanism for handling corporate corruption and malpractices associated with NGOs. Minister of Planning Ashwini Kumar said: “If there is one issue on which there is complete unanimity, it is that lawmaking is the domain, and the exclusive domain, of both Houses of Parliament, and that law-making cannot be effectuated under a banyan tree, or a people tree, by scores of people sitting under it. The day we allow ourselves to regress into that kind of a coercive legislation, that would be the death knell of all that we have nurtured to create and consolidate us further.” He also questioned the wisdom of those advising Anna Hazare.

But coercive legislation or not, that is what Parliament agreed to do today and more than one minister wondered about the durability and practicability of the resolution. “Consider the six points: The resolution has no reference to the Prime Minister in relation to the Lok Pal (the Standing Committee will decide this); The Judicial Accountability Act will address issues related to judicial corruption; the conduct of MPs inside Parliament has not been conceded because the issue of privilege and supremacy of the two Houses comes in the way; we have deferred taking a decision on the lower bureaucracy and the Lok Ayukta. Whether the Lok Pal or some other authority will decide on the citizens’ charter and its violations is still an open question. So, if the Standing Committee will decide on all this, then why the fast? What did the fast achieve?”

Ministers added that this was not the end. They predicted that when the Standing Committee gave its recommendations, another round of agitation would start. “We should only promise what we can deliver,” one said.

At Ramlila Maidan as news filtered in of more MPs supporting Hazare’s three conditions, celebrations began in Hazare’s makeshift room at the Maidan. Kiran Bedi, formerly police officer and now close aide of Hazare, was seen embracing other team members in celebration. Later, she appeared on the stage and enthusiastically waved the national flag.

“History is being written and whole Parliament has won. It has spoken the voice of Anna and of the people. Today, the voice of people and Parliament became one,” Bedi said. “Anna doesn’t have a television in his room, but I have showed him on my iPad. Anna said: “It is very nice and smiled,” she added. This was even before Parliament had agreed on a resolution.

Moments later, her tone changed and she requested the people to pray that the resolution was passed by Parliament tonight. “Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan have gone to Parliament, but they have not got the resolution. History is still far. Prayers are needed, so let us pray,” she said. In Parliament, there was no information that Kejriwal had come there. Later, there was a message that he had met law minister Salman Khurshid at his residence. He was asked as much. “Kejriwal has every right to visit my home, even if I am not at home,” said Khurshid.

Later Kejriwal said Parliament should vote on the resolution. “All political parties have supported our demands, so why aren’t they voting? The BJP should make its stand clear. Anna is saying voting should take place,” Kejriwal said. Finally, there was no vote.

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