Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi at Parliament House in New Delhi on Thursday. Vijay Kumar Joshi / PTI photo
New Delhi: Congress party general secretary Rahul Gandhi has proposed that the Lokpal, or anti-corruption ombudsman, should be a constitutional body similar to the Election Commission of India in order to fight corruption effectively.
“Why not elevate the debate and fortify the Lokpal by making it a constitutional body, accountable to Parliament like the Election Commission of India?,” Gandhi, who co-leads the party in the absence of party chief Sonia Gandhi, said in the Lok Sabha. “I feel the time has come for us to seriously consider this idea”
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“In the last few months Anna has helped the people to articulate this same sentiment (against corruption). I thank him for that,” Gandhi told a raucous Parliament.
“Individuals have brought our country great gains. They have galvanised people in the cause for freedom... however we must not let them lead the democratic process,” Gandhi said.
Gandhi said one anti-graft bill was not enough and called for sweeping reforms in areas like election funding and mining regulation.
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Social activist Anna Hazare gestures to his supporters on the 11th day of his fast at Ramlila Ground in New Delhi. (Reuters photo)
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“We cannot wish away corruption by the mere desire to see it removed from our lives. This requires a comprehensive framework of action and a concerted political programme supported by all levels of the state from the highest to the lowest. Most importantly, it requires firm political will,” he said during Zero Hour, amid noisy protests from National Democratic Alliance (NDA) members.
“Today, the proposed law is against corruption. Tomorrow, the target may be something less universally heralded. It may attack the plurality of our society and democracy,” Gandhi warned in the House as his sister Priyanka Gandhi watched from the visitors’ gallery.
“Witnessing the events of the last few days, it would appear that the enactment of a single bill will usher in a corruption-free society. I have serious doubts about this belief,” he said, adding an effective Lokpal “is only one element in the legal framework to combat corruption.”
He maintained that “Lokpal institution alone cannot be a substitute for a comprehensive anti-corruption code. A set of effective laws is required.”
His speech was disrupted by NDA members, who were protesting against his making a statement on the issue during Zero Hour. This triggered a clash with Congress members shouting back.
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Social activist Anna Hazare waves the national flag on the tenth day of his fasting at the Ramlila Ground in New Delhi. (Reuters photo)
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Speaker Meira Kumar ruled that she had allowed Gandhi to speak on the issue during Zero Hour after which Gandhi continued.
“A process divorced from the machinery of an elected government, that seeks to undo checks and balances created to protect the supremacy of Parliament, sets a dangerous precedent for our democracy.”
The congress leader told reporters outside Parliament that he has given a “game-changing idea”.
On being asked by reporters about his silence on the anti-corruption protests led by activist Anna Hazare, Gandhi said he wanted to think, decide and then talk about it.
The campaign by 74-year-old Hazare has sparked the biggest protests in decades from a middle class angered by endemic bribes. He has emerged as a lightening rod for widespread anger at a political class seen as arrogant and out-of touch.
(PTI, Reuters and AFP also contributed to this story)