Baba Ramdev Effect: Govt tells Team Anna we can draft Lokpal Bill without you

7 Jun

 After evicting Baba Ramdev from Delhi, the government today asserted itself against Anna Hazare and his colleagues, sternly telling them that it would go ahead with the drafting of the Lokpal Bill “even in their absence” if civil society representatives continued with their boycott of the joint committee meetings.

It also underlined to the Hazare camp that its involvement in the drafting exercise was being seen as undermining of the “supremacy of the Constitution” by other political parties. The government, however, invited them for the next meeting of the joint committee on June 15.

The government’s curt message was delivered shortly after the Congress bracketed both Anna Hazare and yoga guru Ramdev together calling them “mukhautas (masks)” of the BJP and asserting that there was “no bigger sanyasi” in contemporary politics than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

This sudden assertion of authority was a clear attempt by the UPA government, and the ruling party, to regain some of the significant ground it had yielded ever since it notified the joint drafting committee in April under pressure from Hazare who had launched an indefinite fast against corruption at Jantar Mantar in Delhi. The committee has met thrice.

Yesterday, the Hazare camp expressed its solidarity with Ramdev — who was forced out of Delhi on Saturday night — and announced that it would not attend today’s scheduled meeting in protest. The co-chair of the joint committee, Shanti Bhushan, even demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet over the police action on Ramdev, who had organised a fast on the issue of black money.

The five ministers in the joint committee went ahead with today’s meeting in the absence of civil society representatives. One of them, a combative Kapil Sibal, told reporters that Hazare and his colleagues were not “serious” about drafting the Lokpal Bill and criticised the language he said they used against the government.

“I reject in the strongest possible terms the language used by Anna Hazare and others which I must say was not the language of civil society. They have called the government cheats, liars, conspirators. I can only hope such kind of language will not be used in the future,” he said. “Letter writing, asking us to participate in public debates or raising the issue of Ramdev or televised discussions at the meeting are all extraneous to the proceedings of the joint drafting committee. Its mandate is to draft a Lokpal Bill. The government has always cooperated with the demands raised by the civil society.

Sibal made it clear that the government would go ahead with the drafting of the Lokpal Bill even if the civil society representatives refused to participate in future meetings. He read out the responses sent by some of the political parties on the questionnaire circulated by the government inviting suggestions on the Lokpal Bill.

Sibal said the BJP’s view was that law-making was the prerogative of the Parliament and cannot be done by a select group of civil society. Similarly, BSP had said that procedure adopted for drafting of Lokpal bill “was not consistent with Parliament processes”. The CPM and the CPI have also echoed this.

Addressing a press conference earlier, Congress media department chairman Janardan Dwivedi, in a clear reference to Ramdev, said, “A satyagrahi does not run away stealthily wearing women’s dresses. Satyagrahi is always ready to sacrifice his life. Such a person is being compared to Mahatma Gandhi and Vivekananda. Gandhiji never said he feared for his life from the state.”

He also took a dig at the BJP which had organised a day long fast at Rajghat in protest against police action on Ramdev. “Who are these people – those whose ideology led to the creation of Rajghat before time? Gandhiji wanted to live for 125 years. How serious is their fast that the Leader of the Opposition is dancing with her friends at Gandhi’s Samadhi? What is it that they are celebrating – by putting forward the mukhautas of Anna Hazare and Ramdev?” said Dwivedi.

Hazare’s group had also decided to boycott today’s meeting because they wanted the government to make its stand public on certain contentious provisions in the proposed legislation, like whether the Prime Minister and the higher judiciary needed to be brought under the purview of the Lokpal.

Reacting to the government’s remarks, Hazare’s colleague Arvind Kejriwal, one of the members of the committee, denied the use of “unparliamentary” language. “We have always been very proper and correct in our communication with the government. After what the government has said today, we have decided to call a meeting tomorrow to discuss what our future course of action should be,” he said.

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