The on-going movement for a strong Lokpal Bill to help check corruption claimed its first casualty on Wednesday with NCP leader and Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar expressing his desire, in a letter to the Prime Minister, to resign from the group of ministers (GoM) on corruption. His resignation offer came after noted social activist Anna Hazare raised questions about his trustworthiness as a member of this GoM.
Further, in a strongly-worded letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday, the social activist charged the government with “malicious slandering” for implying that his indefinite fast has been “instigated”.
Mr Pawar’s offer to resign from the GoM wasn’t enough for Mr Hazare who reacted by saying he should resign from the Union council of ministers too. “So what if he resigned from GoM? Pawar should resign as minister also. When he was chief minister, I returned the Padma Shri. Our problem has not been resolved by Pawar resigning from the GoM. One Pawar goes, another will come. We want a joint committee,” told reporters.
Mr Pawar’s offer to resign came even as a countrywide ground swell of support continued to grow for Annasaheb’s crusade to see a Lokpal Bill that will give greater powers to the ombudsman to deal with corruption cases. The social activist is on the second day of a fast unto death at the national capital’s Jantar Mantar.
With the increasing support Mr Hazare’s movement is drawing, it is learnt that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, too, discussed the matter with some of his Cabinet colleagues following Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting. There were indications that the PM may nominate a Cabinet colleague to hold talks with the social activist.
Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Pawar had offered to step down as a member of all GoMs, including the GoM on corruption. The offer came after Mr Hazare attacked the NCP leader on Tuesday, saying: “A minister like Sharad Pawar who is known for possessing large amounts of land in Maharashtra is heading a committee that will draft the bill (Lokpal).”
Other members of the GoM on corruption defended an embattled government which has been under increasing scrutiny for the various scams it has found itself embroiled in recent months. Union law minister M. Veerappa Moily said that though the government is “anxious” to introduce the Lokpal Bill in Parliament’s next session, it is open to suggestions. He also maintained that the government hasn’t said “no” to the demand for a joint committee for drafting the bill and that the PM was “open to all suggestions on the bill”.
Union HRD and telecom minister Kapil Sibal, also a member of the GoM on corruption and who at one point claimed that there were “zero losses” due to the 2G scam, said the government is “deeply concerned” about corruption and was open to all suggestions.
There was a snub in store for eager politicians who sought to grab some limelight on Wednesday by seeking to express solidarity with the on-going movement for a strong Lokpal Bill. They had to beat a hasty retreat when they reached Jantar Mantar to express their support for Annasaheb. Among the politicians who had to leave after being prevented from reaching the fasting activist on the dais were former BJP leader Uma Bharti, RLD leader Ajit Singh and INLD leader and former Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala.
The government, finding itself on a sticky wicket, indicated that it was open to changes in the proposed Lokpal Bill and was not averse to the idea of a joint committee as suggested by Mr Hazare. There were also indications that the government had begun sending feelers to the fasting activist saying that it was looking at the possibility of seeking the opinion of activists while giving final shape to the Lokpal Bill.
Mr Hazare, in his biting reply to the PM, wrote: “It is my experience that when cornered, governments resort to such malicious slandering. I am pained that the government, rather than addressing the issue of corruption, is trying to allege conspiracies where there are none.” He added: “This is an insult to my wisdom and intelligence… I take advice from many friends and critics but do what my conscience directs me to do.”
Moreover, the activist, while describing the PM as a “good man”, added for good measure, “Remote control se gadbadi hoti hai (Remote control spoils things)”.
The activist also clarified in his missive that activists were not asking that the Jan Lokpal Bill drafted by them be accepted in toto. Rather, he said, they were seeking the creation of a “credible platform” which will have at least half of its members from civil society for drafting the legislation.
He also remarked in the missive: “Your spokespersons are misleading the nation when they say that there is no precedent for setting up a joint committee. At least seven laws in Maharashtra were drafted by similar joint committees and presented in the state Assembly… Even at the Centre, when 25,0000 tribals came to Delhi two years ago, your government set up a joint committee on land issues within 24 hours. You yourself are the chairperson of that committee. This means that the government is willing to set up a joint committee on all other issues, but not corruption. Why?”
The Congress continued to defend the government on the Lokpal Bill issue but sought to
strike a somewhat conciliatory note. Party spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan said on Wednesday: “It requires a great deal of discussion before a wide consensus is arrived at. The bill is a matter of national debate. There is a bill which the government has brought. Anna Hazare is suggesting something else. There are many views and discussions should happen,” she said.
In the meantime, cyberspace, including Twitter, was abuzz with expressions of support from the common man for the social activist’s crusade for a more empowering anti-corruption legislation. The national capital’s India Gate witnessed a large candlelight procession in which people from all walks of life participated to show their support for Mr Hazare.
Bollywood, too, didn’t remain untouched with film actor Aamir Khan twittering support for the activist. “People like Anna Hazare will force a people’s movement against the system. Like Gandhi did against the British,” he said on Twitter. Asian Age