Hazare meets BJP leaders on Lokpal Bill

Hazare meets BJP leaders on Lokpal Bill

New Delhi: Activist Anna Hazare on Friday met leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main opposition, to discuss the contentious issues related to the Lokpal Bill.

The party, though, refused to spell its stand on the differences between the government and the civil society on various aspects of the proposed legislation, meant to constitute an independent body to investigate corruption cases.

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The two sides have announced their own versions of the draft Bill.

The government has convened an all-party meeting on the Lokpal Bill on Sunday.

The BJP has not decided if it would be a part of it. BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said his party will take a decision on this after a meeting of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) on Saturday.

“We will take a formal stand soon, after the NDA meeting tomorrow (Saturday)... How can we say anything when there is no official draft of the Bill from the government? A draft Bill is official only if either the Prime Minister has signed it or the cabinet has approved it," Prasad said, adding that the “Bill should ensure that the Central government cannot misuse it against opposition-ruled states".

Hazare met BJP leaders including L.K. Advani, the leaders of opposition in both houses, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, as well as former party president Rajnath Singh, among others, to garner support for the civil society’s version of the Lokpal Bill.

Hazare, along with members of the joint drafting committee of the Lokpal Bill and Right to Information (RTI) activist Arvind Kejriwal, had a nearly two-hour meeting with the BJP leaders and made a formal presentation on the Bill.

“We discussed both the drafts, we have to see what kind of Bill will go to Parliament, what all parties think about it and what the people also think about it," Hazare said after the meeting.

Despite nine meetings, the joint drafting committee continues to differ over key issues like inclusion of the Prime Minister under the ambit of the Lokpal and the method of appointment and removal of the Lokpal.

The BJP did not state its position on any of these issues.

“We sought many clarifications from them on issues like the inclusion of the Prime Minister, the judiciary and why there is a need for a Lokpal Bill," Prasad said. “We also said it is not just the process of selection of the Lokpal that is important but also that those appointed are people of impeccable integrity and dedication." On including the conduct of legislators inside Parliament within the purview of the Lokpal, BJP said they should be accountable but it was equally important that they be allowed to function in Parliament free from “fear, intimidation or threat".

The ruling Congress party accused the BJP of using the issue for political gains. “They are keeping all their options open till the Parliament session and doing this means that they are playing politics, they are being opportunistic, they are being hypocritical," said party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi.

Hazare and his team have met several top political leaders this week including Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and Communist Party of India general secretary A.B. Bardhan.

“For the last two days we are meeting leaders of various political parties. When the Bill comes to Parliament, it should be the right one," Hazare said.

He is also expected to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Saturday.