In a powerful speech in the Lok Sabha, Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj expressed her party's support for Anna Hazare, and said the BJP largely agrees with the three pre-conditions that the activist had given to end his hunger strike.
She also tore into the statement made by Rahul Gandhi yesterday in Parliament, and targeted the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Meira Kumar, for allowing the Congress leader to make an unscheduled speech yesterday at virtually no notice. (Read: Sushma slams Rahul speech; targets Speaker
"We support Anna Hazare on the three points he wants included in the Lokpal Bill," Ms Swaraj said at the end of her speech. The Lokpal Bill provides for a new agency that will examine complaints of corruption from the public against government servants. Anna and his associates had said that three powers they want the Lokpal to have must be granted by Parliament.
These include allowing the Lokpal to investigate junior bureaucrats, introducing the Lokpal model in states, and posting a citizen's charter in every government department to explain the services that office owes to the public.
Ms Swaraj said that while the BJP backs these needs, her party differs from other features of the draft bill that Team Anna had prepared -the conduct of MPs within Parliament, for example, must be exempt from investigation by the Lokpal. "The Constitution gives us MPs immunity inside the house. That immunity should continue. But outside the House, we are ordinary citizens," she said.
Before that, however, she urged MPs to recognise, "This is a historic debate. How long it lasts is not important... we must conduct it courteously... if you don't like what I am saying, let your representatives respond... but let us show the country that its representatives can function well and we can conduct a healthy debate."
She also said that politicians and the government must both acknowledge why Anna's anti-corruption campaign has evoked such stratospheric response. Ms Swaraj pointed out that nine different times, the Lokpal Act has been introduced in Parliament but has not been passed. "The timelines that Anna keeps giving... some people are offended that how can they dictate this? But think about this... for so many years, we have all failed to deliver the Lokpal Act. I blame our party as well. "
Ms Swaraj explained why her party rejected the draft of the Lokpal Bill that had been prepared by the government. "People are unable to afford two meals a day. But those in power are swindling crores. People ask why a government that keeps saying it wants to fight corruption... but the Lokpal Bill the government delivered... was weak. That is why people have questioned your motives about how serious you are. Your version of the Bill fuelled their anger."
Acknowledging the Prime Minister's speech made on Thursday on corruption and Anna, Ms Swaraj said Dr Manmohan Singh showed "great statesmanship." She said Rahul Gandhi's speech yesterday "poured cold water" over Dr Singh's show of leadership. In an unscheduled intervention during Zero Hour on Friday, Mr Gandhi said that a Lokpal Bill could not alone end corruption and suggested an autonomous Lokpal - a constitutional body much like the Election Commission.
But she also took a fierce swipe at Dr Singh. "He doesn't speak very often... when he does, nobody listens to him," she said referring to the fact that the Cabinet over-ruled Dr Singh's offer to let the Lokpal Bill cover the Prime Minister's Office. Ms Swaraj said that except on matters like national security, the Prime Minister's office must be within the purview of the Lokpal Bill. "Otherwise, we are saying that in the world's largest democracy, we will have to suffer a corrupt Prime Minister till he exits office," said the BJP's Arun Jaitley in the Rajya Sabha. (Read: Time to raise bar of accountability, says Jaitley