Congress moots all-party meet on Lokpal (Lead)

June 18th, 2011 - 8:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Sonia Gandhi New Delhi, June 18 (IANS) Even as the Congress party suggested an all-party meeting on the proposed Lokpal bill, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Saturday said the government was “prima facie” opposed to bringing the post of prime minister under the ambit of Lokpal.

“Within the government, we feel prima facie, the prime minister should not be covered (under the ambit of Lokpal),” Sibal told Karan Thapar in CNN-IBN’s “Devil’s Advocate” programme.

“But at the same time, we want to make sure that if he demits office, he should not be exonerated from prosecution,” Sibal added.

The Congress core committee Saturday suggested that the government call an all-party meeting to seek views on the Lokpal bill.

The meeting, chaired by party chief Sonia Gandhi, felt that such a meeting would help arrive at a consensus on the ticklish issues and defuse the pressure on the government and the party, the sources added.

This was the second meeting of the powerful Congress committee in two days. Besides Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, key ministers including Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister P. Chidambaram attended the meeting.

The central government and civil society activists, led by social activist Anna Hazare, are engaged in a war of words for over a month over various “fundamental issues” concerning the proposed legislation, including bringing the prime minister, judges and parliamentarians within the ambit of the Lokpal.

Sibal, who is one of the government representative on the 10-member drafting committee, however, clarified that the government will only decide on the issue after the draft bill goes to the cabinet.

He said the five ministers on the committee were willing to be persuaded to bring the prime minister within the ambit of the anti-corruption legislation if the civil society gives a compelling argument.

The government members are Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is co-chairman of panel, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily and Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid.

Manmohan Singh had said earlier that he was “open” to the idea of bringing the post under the Lokpal.

Sibal said it was not the question of “an individual, Manmohan Singh, but it’s about an institution”.

“Which prime minister in office anywhere in the world has been prosecuted in the world? Please tell me, please give me an example,” he argued.

Sibal said only one draft of the bill would be submitted to the cabinet.

“We will try and resolve the disagreements as much as much as possible,” Sibal said, when asked about differences between the government and Team Hazare on the provisions of the Lokpal bill.

“There will be no two drafts, though there may be areas of disagreement,” he said.

While giving a single draft to the cabinet, differences between the two sides would be brought to the cabinet’s notice, Sibal said.

Asked about Hazare’s threat to fast from Aug 16 if the Lokpal bill was not passed by then, Sibal said: “I do not want to comment. It is not for me to comment on what Haraze (ought) to do.”

He said people rallied behind Anna Hazare during his protest as they were upset with corruption but most of them do not know what is the Lokpal bill.

“Anna Hazare is like the ‘Pied Piper of Hamelin’. The tune is lilting and people were upset with corruption just as the government is. We want to deal with it. But those who follow him.. do not know what the Lokpal bill is,” Sibal added.

The 10-member drafting committee was formed after Hazare in April launched a mass movement against corruption in high places by sitting on a hunger strike at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar. The government acceded to his demand and set up the committee to draft a strong Lokpal bill.

The drafting committee is due to submit its report by June 30.

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