Lokpal debate collapses amid acrimony, Hazare to fast (Roundup)

June 16th, 2011 - 10:05 pm ICT by IANS  

P. Chidambaram New Delhi, June 16 (IANS) The two-month dialogue between the government and the civil society for an effective Lokpal bill collapsed Thursday amid acrimony, with Gandhian Anna Hazare announcing another fast here from Aug 16 and cabinet ministers saying the government cannot be threatened.

With each side sticking to its stand on contentious issues, the 74-year-old Hazare said he would resume at Jantar Mantar a hunger strike that he had called off after five days in April when the government agreed to set up a 10-member panel to frame a Lokpal bill to fight corruption.

After six rounds of talks (the civil society boycotted the June 6 meeting), Hazare accused the government of cheating the civil society that has campaigned for a strong Lokpal, or Ombudsman, while ministers accused the anti-corruption crusader of trying to set up “a parallel government”.

“You cannot crate a parallel government outside the government which controls every activity which relates to the government,” Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal, one of the five ministers in the panel on Lokpal, told a news conference.

“You cannot threaten a negotiation process,” he said, with cabinet colleagues P. Chidambaram and Salman Khursheed flanking him. “You cannot threaten us and then negotiate with us. This is not the way forward.”

“If we don’t agree with what they say, then they will go on hunger strike,” he added, mockingly.

While Sibal was not as aggressive as he has been earlier while talking about Team Hazare, he underlined that the Gandhian and his representatives did “not represent the 1.2 billion people” of India.

He said while the government agreed with the civil society in many areas, and that it too wanted a strong Lokpal bill to curb corruption, “there are seeral fundamental issues” on which the two sides did not see eye to eye.

Home Minister Chidambaram said the government was determined to “draft a strong and sound Lokpal bill” before the mutually agreed deadline of June 30 and present it to parliament.

Meeting journalists a little while earlier, Hazare and his confidant Arvind Kejriwal lashed out at the government.

“Now that the government is turning its back on its promise, I will fast again from Aug 16,” Hazare said.

After Hazare’s April 5-9 hunger strike, which ignited widespread public support across India, the government set up a 10-member panel — with five representatives each from both sides — to draft an effective Lokpal bill to curb corruption in high places.

The government does not agree with the civil society’s demands that the prime minister and the higher judiciary should be brought within the ambit of the Lokpal. There are also fundamental differences about the structure of the Lokpal institution — and how it should function.

On Wednesday, they failed to resolve their many differences, and the government said it would put up its own draft of the proposed Lokpal bill and that of the civil society before the cabinet.

“Suddenly they have changed their position,” Hazare complained. “If two drafts were to be sent, why did they form the joint committee? They could have done this earlier.”

“What was the point of wasting so much time? It is clear the government is not interested in eradicating corruption.”

The more vocal Kejriwal said the government was neither serious about the Lokpal bill nor about fighting corruption.

“The government has frittered away a huge opportunity to provide a good legislation to the country… The government’s Lokpal bill is not a Lokpal bill, it is a jokepal bill.”

Sibal took exception to Kejriwal’s statement that if there was an effective anti-corruption legislation in the country, then more than half the ministers today would be in prison.

“You question our motives, our honesty. You say half of us will be in jail. This is not the way for the so-called representatives of Anna Hazare to carry forward the discourse,” he asserted.

Both sides, however, indicated that there was still a ray of hope. Kejriwal said that differences should and can be overcome by discussions. And Sibal added that the government was always ready to talk.

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