Govt, Team Anna on the edge; to meet Monday
New Delhi: A day before the next meeting of the Lokpal Bill joint drafting panel, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Sunday replied to reformer Anna Hazare's letter accusing her party of maligning his image and said that her stand on the issue has not changed.
"As far as the questions raised by you in the letter, I have already clarified my stand in the previous letter dated April 19," Gandhi said in her reply.
Gandhi had written to Hazare on April 19 saying that she was not in favour of smear campaigns, but did not offer any assurance on reining in her party colleagues from speaking on the Lokpal Bill.
"I had received your letter on June 09, but as I was out of station, I could not reply. Meanwhile, you have made the letter public. I will get information in this regard," she added in her letter on Sunday.
Hazare had written to Gandhi on June 09 expressing displeasure over the Congress calling him the face of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Gandhi's reply comes as the 10-member panel is scheduled to have its final meetings on Monday and Tuesday before submitting the draft on June 30.
Differences between the government and the civil society members have been growing with the June 15 meeting deciding to submit the draft bill with the areas of disagreement specifically mentioned.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the panel co-chair, on Sunday held discussions with the ministerial members Kapil Sibal, Salman Khursheed and Veerappa Moily about the strategy in the meetings in the next two days. The fifth member, P Chidambaram, was not present.
In a related development, Karnataka Lok Ayukta (ombudsman) and a civil society member on the panel, N Santosh Hegde, said in Mangalore that he did not have any rift with the Anna Hazare team and that he would attend the meetings.
Hegde said he will not be able to attend the Monday meeting due to his prior commitments, but would attend the one on Tuesday.
Hegde also clarified that his comment on Anna Hazare's hunger strike was just a suggestion that he made, which was being mistaken as a rift.
He had urged Hazare on Saturday not to fast again if the Lokpal bill is not passed by August 15, and instead tour the country and meet people over the issue.
"I personally felt that it will be better if Anna Hazare goes around India and mobilises people's support against corruption. If Anna goes on a strike, I will fully support him," Hegde added.
Prashant Bhushan, another civil society member in the bill drafting panel, has said that the country needs an independent body to fight graft.
"We need an independent body to go into corruption as well as misconduct and misbehaviour by the judiciary. But that body must be credible and should be independent of the government as well as of the judiciary. The Lokpal is precisely such a body," said Bhushan in New Delhi.
Prashant Bhushan's father, former law minister Shanti Bhushan, is the drafting panel's co-chair. The other civil society representatives are Anna Hazare, Santosh Hegde and rights activist Arvind Kejriwal.