Protests erupt over Lokpal bill as PM becomes 'holy cow'
New Delhi: The Lokpal bill, which seeks to combat corruption in high places, was yesterday introduced in parliament amid protests from Gandhian Anna Hazare and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which objected to the prime minister's exclusion from its ambit while in office.
The most vocal opposition in the Lok Sabha came from BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, who said the prime minister cannot be treated as ‘holy cow,' more so when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had no objection to be investigated by the Lokpal or ombudsman.
Outside parliament, the chorus was taken up by Hazare, 72, who called the bill ‘anti-poor.' Civil society activists burned copies of the bill in 13 places in and around the capital.
The long awaited bill was tabled in the house by Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office V. Narayanasamy. Sushma Swaraj, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, immediately rose to protest.
"I cannot understand how anyone, sitting in any position, be a holy cow? Why is the prime minister out of it?" she asked.
Conditions on premier
The proposed legislation says a prime minister can be investigated by the Lokpal after he resigns.
It also excludes the judiciary and any action of an MP in parliament or in a parliamentary committee.
"I am happy the prime minister himself had said that it is okay if he is brought within the ambit of the Lokpal bill. Then, why is the cabinet not paying heed?" Sushma Swaraj asked.
Narayanasamy defended the bill, saying it had now become the property of the house and it will go to the parliamentary standing committee.
"Parliament is supreme, so the opposition by [Sushma] Swaraj cannot be sustained."
Replying to the BJP contention that former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had agreed to be covered by the anti-corruption law, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said he placed the bill in parliament for two consecutive years when the BJP ruled India. "Why wasn't it cleared then?" he asked.
Later, Sushma Swaraj told reporters: "Our basic opposition is that we want a strong Lokpal bill. If the prime minister is kept out of the bill, how effective will it be."
Hazare vowed to go on fast from August 16, calling his campaign for a corruption free society India's, ‘second freedom struggle.'
"The government is not willing to eradicate corruption," Hazare told reporters at Ralegan Siddhi, his home.
"The more people protest against the bill, the more pressure will be created on the government," he added.
In Ghaziabad, near the Indian capital, civil society activists burned a copy of the bill. Lawyer Prashant Bhushan quoted his father and former law minister Shanti Bhushan as saying: "Without a proper Lokpal bill, everyone will escape."
Activists burned copies of the government's version of the anti-graft Lokpal bill after it was introduced in parliament yesterday.
"We are not focusing only on the prime minister's inclusion in the Lokpal Bill.
"The bill is against the poor," civil society representative on the drafting committee Arvind Kejriwal told reporters in Ghaziabad, a satellite town of the Indian capital.
"We are following the Gandhian way of non-violent protest," he added.
Another civil society representative and lawyer, Prashant Bhushan said: "We are appealing that this is a symbolic opposition. No violent action should be taken after this protest in any part of the country."