First a streak of stinging criticism, then a note of apology and finally an act of retirement. Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari has withdrawn himself from the Standing Committee on Law and Justice that is looking into the controversial Lok Pal Bill. The recusal comes a little over a fortnight after the Ludhiana MP called Anna Hazare corrupt, and then, midway the Gandhian’s nation-wide anti-graft agitation, openly expressed regret over his allegations.
Tewari’s announcement on Wednesday comes on the last day of the pertinent parliamentary panel that is now set for reconstitution. Political parties name their MPs for membership of the committee that is constituted by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the chairperson of the upper house. The members have a one-year term that can be extended if their party renominates them.
The next meeting of the 31-member Committee to discuss Lok Pal is scheduled to take place on September 7, for which Hazare has been called. For now, the 74-year-old social activist has declined the invitation.
Hazare would take part in the process at a later stage, two representatives of Team Anna had told the committee yesterday. RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal and senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan had, during an informal discussion with panel chair Abhishek Manu Singhvi (who has taken over the post from Jayanti Natarajan after her becoming a minister) that Hazare would not be able to attend the September 7 meeting.
Since it’s now clear that Hazare would not attend the meeting, the panel members have asked social activist and NAC member Aruna Roy to virtually substitute him on September 7. Hazare and his team members had attended the panel’s first meeting on August 10, six days before he went on a hunger strike at the Ramlila groud. Hazare had also given copies of the Jan Lok Pal Bill to the 31-member standing committee after a three-hour-long meeting. Hazare’s proposed abstention from the meeting also means virtual detention for the rest of the committee members. “We want to take forward our discussion on Jan Lok Pal Bill,” said a panel member. “Hazare has said that they would meet the standing committee only later.”
The Lok Pal Bill prepared by Aruna Roy and her fellow members demands the creation of a National Anti-corruption Lok Pal for the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, MPs and group A officers. Roy is also demanding that the Central Vigilance Commission must be strengthened and it should act against middle-level bureaucracy.
Similarly, the group is also demanding a Judicial Accountability and Standards Bill, a Lok Pal for Public Grievance and Public Interest Disclosure and a Protection to People Making the Disclosure Bill for protection of whistleblowers.
The opposition BJP, in an apparent move to corner the ruling Congress at the meetings, has replaced two of its standing committee members after their tenure ended on Wednesday. It had held a series of discussions with Bikaner MP Arjun Meghwal and his Darbhanga counterpart Kirti Azad, and nominated them in place of Jyoti Dhurve (Betul) and Devji M Patel (Jalore).
Senior BJP leader S S Ahluwalia said the panel had earlier discussed the Women’s Reservation Bill, and “that is why we had nominated Jyoti Dhurve”. Now that the Lok Pal was being taken up, “we decided to name Meghwal because he has been a former civil servant himself and would be able to add to the discussions. Both Meghwal and Azad were chosen because we wanted people who put across the views of BJP and also those who could devote time for the Lok Pal bill”. Congress’s Singhvi said it was for the political parties and Presiding Officers of both Houses to decide their nominees. “As chairman of the Committee, I have no role in their appointment.”
RJD chief Lalu Prasad, LJP President Ram Vilas Paswan, BJP leaders Bal Apte and Harin Pathak and independent member Amar Singh as also senior advocates Ram Jethmalani of the BJP and Vijay Bahadur Singh of BSP are part of the outgoing committee.
Social Activist Anna Hazare was today discharged from a Gurgaon hospital in the evening where he has admitted after he broke his 12-day long hunger-strike in demand for a stronger Lok Pal Bill. Hazare remained in the hospital for four days.
“Yes, he is out,” Dr Yatin Mehta, who was attending to Hazare said. when asked if Hazare was discharged.
Hazare, who left the hospital through the back entrance of the hospital, is expected to leave from the Capital tonight for his village Ralegon Siddhi in Maharashtra.