‘Govt can't decide how big a protest against it can be'
Opposition rejects PM’s statement on Hazare arrest, says Govt running slander campaign against him
The Opposition leaders in both the Houses of Parliament refused to bite the Prime Minister's proposition of a confrontation between Parliament and civil society on the Lokpal Bill in his statement on incidents related to anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare on Wednesday.
BJP leaders Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj asserted in the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha respectively that the issue is not about who makes the Lokpal law, but about the citizens' rights that were infringed upon when conditions were imposed on Hazare to prevent him from fasting to register protest against the Bill brought before Parliament.
Pointing out how the people rose in revolt across the country on Anna’s arrest, Jaitley said, “It is a wake-up call for us to put our house in order as people are becoming restless.” He asked the government to grasp the pulse of the people from the way all rose in protest against arrest of Anna Hazare to prevent him from fasting.
He noted that the defining moment on August 15 was not the PM’s address from the Red Fort’s ramparts but hundreds rushing to Rajghat on learning Hazare’s meditation and the defining moment was the instant protests at thousands of places, including rural areas, on his arrest. He said the protests were far more than he could have visualised, surpassing even the JP movement.
Both the leaders said the government can never be allowed to decide how big the protests should be against it, in what mode and for how many days. Asserting that the government cannot decide whether a protest should be large or minuscule, Jaitley asked the ruling Congress if it would undertake not to mobilise protest by more than 5,000, a condition slapped against Hazare.
He said the civil society group was not replacing Parliament as the PM tried to claim but only trying to put across its view point and that there was nothing wrong in Anna’s campaign for his view on the Lokpal Bill. He said the time has come for the PM and the political leadership of the government to show “political will to fight corruption.”
The Opposition members in both the Houses also hit out against the government for doing little to banish corruption and punishing people like Anna Hazare who have taken up the crusade against corruption in the country.
Sushma Swaraj asserted that the Opposition will always rise against suppression of the citizens’ rights increasingly resorted to by this government, be it the midnight police crackdown on Baba Ramdev’s supporters sleeping or singing ‘Bhajans’, or the unprovoked assault on the peaceful BJP youths’ rally against corruption and prevention of Hazare from undertaking a peaceful protest and fast.
After leading the Anna group through a gardened path by involving them in drafting the Lokpal Bill, the government not only deserted them but mounted a slander campaign against them and brought a Bill for a government-controlled Lokpal, Jaitley said. He said this was, however, not the issue but how the political agitation was mishandled.
In the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj pointed out that it is the government that sidelined the Opposition parties by forming a joint panel with the Anna camp to frame the Lokpal Bill. She said Anna and his group members told her that they wanted the Opposition parties involved in drafting the Bill but the government said there was no need to do so.
She pointed out that the issue today was not the Lokpal Bill but the way Hazare was mistreated. She said the Opposition had united against his arrest but that does not mean it supports his Jan Lokpal Bill. “We may not have agreement will all its provisions,” she added.
Earlier in the day, the Prime Minister made a statement on the Hazare episode in the Lok Sabha as soon as the House met at 11 AM and in the Rajya Sabha at 11.30 AM. He rushed out from the Lok Sabha after making the statement to reach the Rajya Sabha at the other end of the Parliament House, angering Sushma Swaraj who said that he had no courtesy to hear her reaction. She even got the House adjourned for half an hour to let him return from the Rajya Sabha to give an ear to the Opposition members on a discussion allowed by the Speaker under Rule 193.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal protested that he had never heard a member demanding that the PM cannot go to the Rajya Sabha. Sushma protested that he was misleading as all that she wanted was for Dr Manmohan Singh to hear the Opposition's response.
BJP veteran Lal Krishna Advani intervened to point out that he had gone to the Speaker’s chamber on Tuesday after Bansal tried to prevent Sushma from speaking even after she was permitted to do so by the Chair. He said the government is suppressing the Opposition’s voice, be it in Parliament or outside, reminding him of the rights extinguished during the Emergency in 1975. He said the ruling Congress is resorting to same kind of tactics and it will have the same fate as befell on it then.
Bansal jumped on his feet to protest and tried to run down Advani for shedding “crocodile tears”. The Opposition rose in revolt and there were verbal duels between the Treasury and Opposition benches until Speaker Meira Kumar expunged the remark. Sushma Swaraj again tried to refer to Bansal’s remark but the Speaker stopped her, pointing out that the remark already stood expunged.
Iftikhar Gilani is Special Correspondent with Tehelka.com