Civil society members led by Anna Hazare on Monday hit back at finance minister Pranab Mukherjee for accusing them of undermining Parliament and the Constitution and said his statement betrayed a “distorted understanding of democracy and arrogance of power”.
They also wanted to know why Mukherjee has been insisting on keeping the prime minister out of the Lokpal’s ambit when he himself had recommended it in 2001 while chairing the Standing Committee on Lokpal. Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who was heading the NDA government then had agreed to it.
The team shot off a letter to PM Manmohan Singh asking why an “honest” man like him was “scared” of being investigated by the Lokpal”. “Taking the PM out of the Lokpal’s ambit would be a retrograde step,” the members said in the letter, signed by Arvind Kejriwal, Anna Hazare, justice Santosh Hegde, advocate Prashant Bhushan and former Union law minister Shanti Bhushan.
The letter comes two days ahead of the next joint drafting committee meeting between civil society members and government representatives and a day after Mukherjee criticised Hazare and his team.
At a press meet, Kejriwal blasted Mukherjee for his accusatory comments. “On January 26, 1950, rickshaw wallas, labourers and poor people became the masters of this country. The PM and Mukherjee are their servants. It is with the tax paid by them that Mukherjee travels in red-beacon car and runs the air conditioner in his office,” he said.
The government could not be a “dictator” for five years just because they have been elected, he said. “They think that the ruling party is important and no one else. It has become a dictator.”
He took a dig at Mukherjee for trying to “belittle” the civil society by terming them a crowd of 5,000-6,000. Why did the government talk to them if it was just that number, he asked.
Kejriwal told reporters that the prime minister himself had earlier said he has no problem with being kept in the
Lokpal’s ambit but his ministers are saying something different. “Is there a disconnect between them?” he asked. “We would be grateful if you could kindly clarify the government’s position on this.”
Even law minister M Veerappa Moily had in January suggested including the PM and the home minister too had agreed to the proposal in March. “We are wondering what happened after March 2011, which prompted the government to do a U-turn,” Kejriwal said. “This is mysterious.”
In order to take the PM out of the ombudsman’s purview, the government will have to amend the Constitution and grant him immunity similar to that enjoyed by the president, the members have said in the letter. They wanted to know if the government planned to go for such an amendment and the reasons behind it.
Prashant Bhushan, who too was present at the meeting, said the government could go for a referendum and seek public opinion and decide accordingly. “We have absolutely no problem with it,” he said. The government should not take democracy and the people lightly just because they have been elected for five years, he said.
Bhushan also took on Mukherjee for saying it would be a circus if committee proceedings were to be televised live.
“The government says they can’t make proceedings public or have a live telecast of the joint committee meetings as it will become a circus. Parliament proceedings are telecast live. Do the prime minister and the government think a circus is going on in Parliament?” he asked.
Asked why they were not pulling out of the Lokpal Bill joint drafting commitee if there was so much mistrust, Kejriwal said, “We have to work with this and we will attend the meetings. At least, we can put on record our dissent note. We will keep striving for a strong Lokpal Bill.”
The members announced that they would brief other political parties about the proceedings of the joint drafting committee meetings till date.