Opposition wary of Congress’ All-Party invitation on Lokpal

If the Congress is in a mood to share some of the flak for ‘blocking’ a strong Lokpal through an All Party meet, the opposition seems to be in no mood to share the burden of resisting an increasingly focused anti-corruption movement.

The Congress, after a brainstorming session of the top leaders at the PM house today, announced that it wanted to conduct an ‘All Party’ meet on the issue of bringing the Prime Minister’s actions within the realm of scrutiny of a prospective Lokpal — India’s anti-corruption watchdog.

The abrupt change in Congress’ mood — it had refused to let other parties have a say in the Lokpal drafting so far — came after increasing realization that the Party was taking huge casualties in terms of middle class support by being seen consistently opposing the demands of the anti-corruption campaign.

An All Party meet, by spreading the responsibility for defending the existing rights of the executive from a marauding Lokpal bill, would help the Party pass at least some of the bad press around to other parties. However, the opposition parties seem to be in no mood to co-operate.

“Why should we participate in such a meeting,” asks a left leader. “It is only when the going got tough that the government remembered us,” he points out, adding that the left is unlikely to participate in the meet — expected to be held in the first week of July.

He points out that the Government itself had said that all political parties can give their opinion on the bill in the Parliament, when asked why it did not include their representatives in the bill drafting committee early on.

It is not just the left which is wary of Congress’ designs behind the meet. BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said his party too would participate only if the Government clearly put forward its own position on the matter of including PM’s action under Lokpal’s sphere of scrutiny first.

“We are not opposed to participating.. but first, we want the government and the Congress to clearly state their position on bringing the Prime Minister within the ambit of Lokpal,” Prasad said, clearly in no mood to share the Congress’ burden of saving the MPs, PM and ministers from the impending Lokpal.

The Congress and the Government have come under increasing attack from the ordinary public as gauged from the overwhelmingly critical reaction by netizens. A press conference by three senior cabinet ministers to clear the air three days ago merely served to aggravate the situation, as the Government’s stance was widely seen as stone-walling and fishy.

Meanwhile, the Civil Society group has welcomed the move to broaden the consultation process, pointing out that under its original plans, the draft bill would have been prepared after a lot of public debate and consultations. It was planning to have ordinary citizens write in to the Committee with suggestions and participate in public fora on the topic.

Public consultation and debate, however, was the first casualty in the tussle between the Civil Society and the Government over important provisions of the ombudsman being designed. The biggest stumbling block has been over the inclusion of all executive, legislative and judicial employees of the government except the President of India, as well as extending the ombudsman right up to the district level.

The government is opposed to both these demands and wants MPs, including the PM, kept out of the probing eyes of the Lokpal and also wants the ombudsman to be restricted to a quasi-judicial panel in Delhi, instead of creating the nation-wide investigating and prosecuting organization sought by the campaigners.