The Congress core group, consisting of party chief Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and select top leaders, on Friday made it clear that controversies “won’t affect” the working of the Lokpal Bill drafting panel.
That the statement reflects the views of the party and the government was made clear after a 90-minute meeting of the core group at the Prime Minister’s residence here Friday evening. It was aimed at distancing the party and the Centre from the CD controversy that began shortly after the constitution of the 10-member joint drafting committee to prepare a draft Lokpal Bill and Justice Santosh Hegde contemplating quitting the committee in prot-est against Congress leaders’ remarks against him.
Mr Hegde, also the Karnataka Lokayukta, will announce here on Saturday whether or not he remains in the joint drafting committee.
The emergence on the scene of expelled Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh and statements by some Congress leaders questioning the integrity of the committee members — Mr Shanti Bhushan, who is also co-chairperson of the committee, Mr Prashant Bhushan and Justice N. Santosh Hegde — created the impression that the Congress and the Centre were behind the campaign.
After the core group meeting, finance minister and joint drafting committee chairperson Pranab Mukherjee said, “Controversies have been raised about members of the joint committee on the Lokpal Bill. I would like to make it clear that the view of the government as also the view of the party, the Congress, (is that) the working of the Lokpal Bill drafting panel won’t be affected by these controversies. Government members of the committee look forward n Turn to Page 4 to working with Anna Hazare and his colleagues on the committee and to draft a strong and sound Lokpal Bill to fight corruption.” The core group discussed the issue threadbare against the backdrop of social activist Anna Hazare’s letter to Mrs Gandhi a few days back in which he had drawn her attention to the campaign by Congress leaders aimed at discrediting the committee.
In a related development, the BSP, the first party backing the Manmohan Singh government from outside, virtually demanded the resignation of the Bhushans from the committee. “The committee should distance itself from those whose integrity is doubted,” BSP chief and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati said in Lucknow without naming anyone in the wake of the CD controversy. She also demanded the inclusion of an “apolitical Scheduled Caste member” in the committee. LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan had earlier raised this issue. Ms Mayawati said Anna Hazare should have discussed the matter before giving the names of the drafting committee members. “How could he forget to include the name of an SC member in the committee when Maharashtra, the state to which he belongs, has witnessed a number of social agitations for giving rights to the community,” she asked.
But Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar on Friday came out openly in favour of the civil society members, claiming that some “vested interests” were trying to derail Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption but they would not succeed. “Attempts are being made to derail the crusade against corruption… The movement will continue to its logical end,” Mr Kumar said in Patna, referring to a slew of charges against eminent lawyer Shanti Bhushan.
The next general election, he claimed, would be fought on the issue of corruption as people are fed up and are keeping a close watch on the government vis-à-vis its will to tackle graft. “I can sense the public anger against corruption and their desire for a clean and transparent political system in the country … The people’s desire to rid the system of corruption is very palpable,” he said. Asian Age