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Govt, MPs close ranks against Anna over Lokpal

Dec 21, 2011 12:30 PM IST Politics Politics

New Delhi: Several MPs cutting across party lines have come down heavily on both the Lokpal Bill cleared by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Cabinet and anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare. Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad, Samajwadi Party MP Mohan Singh and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury have questioned the UPA Government's intention while making it clear that Parliament will not rush through the anti-corruption legislation in a hurry to please Hazare and his associates.

Even Congress President Sonia Gandhi told her party MPs that the Government will not bend beyond a point for Team Anna, as Hazare and his associates are popularly known as, even as the Lokpal Bill will be tabled in the Lok Sabha on December 22, and in the Rajya Sabha on December 23.

Mayawati-led Bhaujan Samaj Party is also against rushing through the Bill while the Shiv Sena has opposed the concept of a Lokpal completely. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Biju Janata Dal have also opposed the Government version, but want an early passage of the Bill.

However, the BJP is yet to reveal its strategy but it has said that the party is ready for a discussion on the Bill any day. It is likely to raise objections on the procedure of the appointment of the Lokpal panel.

Lalu questioned the need for rushing though the legislation and said that a Bill can be passed after following a due process of Parliament.

"No one can dictate terms to us. Parliament has to follow due process. It is an important legislation. MPs may want to move amendments. How can we rush through it?" questioned Lalu.

Calling the proposed Lokpal Bill without teeth, Samajwadi Party MP Mohan Singh also expressed doubts whether the winter session of Parliament can be extended to pass the legislation.

"Whatever has come in media on Lokpal bill confirms Anna's claim that the Government intends to legislate an ineffective Bill. It will take at least four days for parliamentarians to go through the Bill and move amendments. Samajwadi Party will move amendments on the current draft of the Bill. The institution should have teeth. We are told the CBI (Central Bureau of India) is not in it," said Singh.

"Anna can't be stopped. Parliament takes a decision on collective wisdom, he decides on his own. It is unlikely that Parliament session will be extended. The Government doesn't have time to pass the Bill such as this. The government needs a week's time for such a Bill. A strong Lokpal must come soon. We have no issues even if it is required that Parliament should work for 24 hours to pass the Lokpal Bill. The Bill is weak. It seems that in the name of Lokpal the Government has arranged for a complaint box," said the Samajwadi Party MP.

He also blamed the Government for its failure to ensure that Parliament function smoothly.

"Most Government managers celebrate holidays abroad (and) that's why they are reluctant in extending the session," he claimed.

Yechury said that even though the MPs don't have full knowledge about the Bill, Team Anna had full information about it.

"We don't know what is in the Lokpal Bill but if Anna is commenting it means he knows more about Parliament than we do which is a dangerous thing," said Yechury.

Sonia, too, joined the Lokpal war of words while addressing Congress MPs at the Parliamentary Party meet. She sent out a tough message to the Opposition as well as Team Anna.

She told her party colleagues that the Government won't go down without a fight on the Lokpal Bill and will ensure that it doesn't meet the same fate as the Women's Reservation Bill. She also reiterated that the Government and the party were united on the issue and hit out at the Opposition in general and the BJP in particular for trying to derail the Lokpal Bill.

"The Lokpal Bill has been cleared by the Cabinet. The Opposition will have lots of things to say. They should accept suggestions of Government. Team Anna SHOULD also accept it. The Opposition cannot reconcile to the fact that they lost (the 2009 Lok Sabha elections). The party and Government support each other, there is no rift between the party and Government," said Sonia.

However, Anna Hazare said that he would resume his agitation and go on fast from December 27. His close associate and social activist Medha Patkar is already on a fast in Rahul Gandhi's constituency of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.

Hazare alleged that the Government was not keen on tackling corruption and threatened to campaign against the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

"The Government has cheated the public and the public will teach them a lesson. We will tour the entire country in 2014 and canvass against this Government. I am fit and there no problems with my health. What is this Lokpal Bill? This Bill is misleading the people. We will go to the five states that are going for polls and analyse the results. We will go to the people and tell them how this Government has cheated the people of India," said Hazare.

Former Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde also rejected the Government's Lokpal Bill

"The Government version is totally unacceptable. What is the point in having a Lokpal like this? You cannot check corruption if Lokpal has no powers. No one is setting a deadline to Parliament. They only said they'll pass it. If they can pass 17 Bills in 12 minutes they can pass this easily. The agitation will continue against corruption. Is FDI in retail more important than fighting against corruption?" asked Hegde.

The BJP, Samajwadi Party and BSP may move amendments after the Bill is introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 22. The Bill is likely to be debated and passed in the Lok Sabha by midnight with the UPA having majority in the House.

The Bill will then be debated in the Rajya Sabha on Friday and the Opposition may introduce more amendments in the House. The UPA does not have majority in the Rajya Sabha and will need the support of the Samajwadi Party and the BSP. If the Bill is passed in both the Houses by Friday then it will goe for presidential assent.

But if the Bill is not passed, then a joint session of both the Houses may be called.

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