New Delhi/Pune: As the government introduced the Lokpal Bill in parliament, Anna Hazare set a copy on fire in Ralegan in Maharashtra. A symbolic gesture in protest against what the 74-year-old Gandhian describes as "a betrayal of the nation." Mr Hazare's act, in turn, was characterized by the government as "an insult to Parliament."
The Bill is meant to check corruption among politicians and bureaucrats. Mr Hazare's team says the government has drafted a Bill that ensures the Lokpal or ombudsman has no real powers.
In the Lok Sabha today, the BJP asked why the Bill does not apply to the Prime Minister's Office -a point that has headlined the considerable controversy that the Bill has spawned. At a cabinet meeting last week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he had no objections to the Bill applying to his office. He was over-ruled by his cabinet, whose members said the institution needs to be safeguarded. "Does nobody listen to the Prime Minister?" said the BJP's Sushma Swaraj, taking a swipe at the PM.
Mr Hazare and his supporters however, cautioned today that the controversy over the Prime Minister's office must not over-shadow the fact that public servants of all ranks should be covered by the Bill.
Mr Hazare is scheduled to begin a hunger fast on August 16. He wants to set up a base camp at Jantar Mantar in Delhi -a request that the Delhi Police has refused. Along with four activists nominated by him, Anna was part of the drafting committee for the Bill. The government was represented by five ministers. Both sides clashed repeatedly, resulting in two disparate versions of the Lokpal Bill. The government has chosen to present its ministers' version in parliament.
Team Anna wants senior judges, the PM's Office and the conduct of MPs inside parliament to be covered by the Bill. They also say the Lokpal must have the power to investigate corruption charges. The government's version rules out those features. Team Anna also says that the government has too much control over the selection of the nine members of the Lokpal.
After months of inertia, the government was forced to make the Lokpal Bill a priority in April after Mr Hazare began an indefinite hunger strike in Delhi. The fast lasted for six days and delivered to India, in the shape of Anna, a new icon who represented the nation's frustration with corruption. Since last year, India has been carpet-bombed by a series of financial scandals engineered in synchronicity by government officials, bureaucrats and industrialists. The largest of these, in terms of losses caused to the government, is a telecom scam that has sent a former minister to jail and raised questions over whether Dr Manmohan Singh did enough to stop the swindle from being executed.