Union minister Salman Khurshid, a key member of the joint drafting committee on the Lokpal Bill, has sought to assure the nation that efforts are being made to formulate a strong legislation that can fight widespread corruption in India.
On her chat show Kahiye Janab, Swati Chaturvedi of Zeenews.com discusses with Khurshid the government’s stand on the Lokpal Bill and the nitty gritties associated with the passing of the legislation.
Here are the excerpts:
Swati: The entire nation wants to know, in Arvind Kejriwal’s words, why did you turn the Lokpal Bill into a ‘jokepal bill’?
Khurshid: When I heard for the first time Arvind Kejriwal using the word ‘jokepal’ it reminded me, in our villages we mock people by saying: Why are you making a ‘jonkpal’?, Why are you sucking the blood of the Indian democracy?
We (UPA government) also want to fight corruption and we are doing it in our own way. But fighting corruption is not the only issue for the government, there are lots of other issues to be dealt with like civil liberties and providing food to every mouth in India. So while we fight the demon of corruption, other issues cannot be sidelined. This would be so unjust to the people. If we think that some magic would happen and we will change everything in a single day, it is just not possible.
Swati: Three months before the joint committee was set up, a ray of hope against corruption was seen. Anna Hazare on this very same show had said last week that the government has turned the entire issue into a joke and fooled the entire nation. What do you have to say about these accusations?
Khurshid: We will send one Lokpal Bill to Parliament. Then we will have a detailed discussion with all parties on the proposal given by Anna Hazare. If the Parliamentarians accept those proposals, we will keep the Bill on a matter of acceptance in Parliament. If they don’t then we will see what can be done next.
Swati: But why will the Parliamentarians, in your opinion, accept the Bill? It is almost like asking a guilty to fix his quantum of punishment. Anna Hazare’s main point in the Lokpal Bill was to bring the elected, the judiciary and the Prime Minister under Lokpal’s ambit. In your previous term, the PM himself had said that he wants to come under the ambit of the Lokpal Bill, but Lalu Prasad Yadav had opposed it that time. Then, what has happened now? Why can’t the PM come under the ambit of Lokpal Bill? Will its future also be similar to that of the Women’s Bill?
Khurshid: The biggest problem is that you know what has been told to you. What we have actually said is, all the ministers, Parliamentarians and the MLAs would definitely come under the ambit of the Lokpal but the Indian Constitution gives a right to all the Parliamentarians to express their views without any fear and the constitutional laws can’t be changed. This law can be changed only if half of the state Assemblies and the Parliamentarians who have been elected by the people and also have the two-third majority agree to it. So, for now, the Lokpal Bill can only be drafted.
As far as the Women’s Reservation Bill is concerned, it was never brought in due to some hurdles. But it’s not the case with the Lokpal Bill. It has been brought in front of us, but we didn’t accept the Bill in its present form as we thought some of the clauses in the Bill would do more harm than good. But Anna Hazare’s team thought otherwise. So don’t we even have the right to use our brains if we see something wrong is happening? Politicians are the elected representatives of our country… don’t we have an identity? Whether we are right or wrong, after every 5 years we ask people to tell us what they want. And if they elect us again then only we come back to power. So what is wrong in it…
Swati: How can the people of this country trust the UPA government any more? By now the entire nation knows that from the time we got independence there has been no government more corrupt than the present UPA government. Scams like CWG, Adarsh and 2G are enough proof. The entire nation is saying, no other government is involved in so many corruption cases as the present one….
Khurshid: Okay fine, you and Anna Hazare both say that the entire nation doesn’t want this government but before the elections the BJP went to Assam for campaigning with a lot of hullabaloo but what happened? Before we could even give a befitting reply, the election results came. Once again the Congress was back in power with a record margin of votes breaking almost a 50-year record. With this I don’t mean to say that people of Assam want a corrupt government, but I just want to indicate that can we still say people don’t want a Congress government? It just shows people’s balanced faith in the Congress party and we will definitely overcome our weaknesses also. We will rectify all our errors, if we have made any.
Swati: What are you going to do with Anna Hazare now as he has said that he will sit on fast again on 16th August? Will it be correct to say that now the civil society and the political class will confront each other? Will Anna Hazare’s fast outside the Parliament be a wrong thing to do?
Khurshid: But why will Anna Hazare go on fast?
Swati: As you will bring a ‘jokepal’ bill…
Khurshid: So Anna will sit outside Parliament and instruct Parliamentarians which even the Speaker can’t do? Who gave him this right? Is this the correct procedure? What kind of civil society is this in which there are only five members who have the power to decide…When we sat in the ‘Samiti’ I got a lot of calls from many bigwigs of the civil society (many top judges) who asked me why I was getting into all this… But I said, “If it’s important to speak to everyone we will do so.” Even we had a talk with team Anna Hazare and they said, “It was nice talking to you. We came to know about many things.” Then why are they seen in an entirely opposite tone outside…
Yes, I agree that we tried to solve things in a peaceful manner with Baba Ramdev but it failed. Even Atalji served Musharraf ‘biryani’ when he was on India visit. But just two months after that we fought ‘Kargil war’ against Pakistan as it was the need of the hour. So, quoting this example I just want to say that sometime we have to act according to the demands of the time. If we can resolve the matter peacefully with talks then why not…
Swati: There is a famous saying that “nature opposes a vacuum”. UPA-II still has 3 and half years of governance left but people are frustrated with this corrupt government… the Prime Minister is almost out of the picture. The finance minister, who is also the head of 35 GoMs, has his office bugged by someone… It could be anyone, a corporate house or any other country… Can you explain what exactly is happening?
Khurshid: Whether Pranab da’s office has been tapped or not is still unclear as an investigation into this matter is on and it would be wrong to reveal any unclear information. Pranab da will give further clarifications if the public wants to know more about it. There is nothing to hide. People have the right to know so whatever they will demand for, they would be catered with. Till then we must conduct a proper investigation and find out the real thing.
Swati: Digvijay Singh said on Rahul Gandhi’s birthday that he is now ready to take up the mantle of the Prime Minister. Do you really think he is prepared to become the next PM? You understand politics very well, so what do you think how would have Manmohan Singh felt after listening to such comments?
Khurshid: The PM is not different from the Congress party. It is one united family and the head of this family has taken a decision that Manmohan Singh will lead this government and we have complete trust in him. We will follow him and support him all the time. We are also very sure that the PM will lead us to that pinnacle of which Sonia Gandhi has dreamt.
The decision to become PM should be left with Rahul Gandhi. There are some issues which should be left to our leaders to decide, not to the party workers.
Swati: But still, you yourself have worked with Rahul Gandhi extensively. You have seen him growing for the past 8 and a half years. He doesn’t give interviews and also holds very few press conferences. Sonia Gandhi, PM and Rahul all three maintain absolute silence; why don’t they talk to the nation?
Khurshid: A group of ministers has been set up to talk to the media and 5-6 people have been given this responsibility. So we do our task. Now, the PM can’t be asked to come down and clean the Ganges. In the same way everyone has been assigned some task, so why should other people be brought into the scene? In a cricket match, a bowler does his own task and a batsman his own; every player plays his own part. If there is an emergency then we can’t put forward only one player. Our goal is to win the game not just to put the entire responsibility on a single player.
Swati: So is it team Manmohan or team Rahul?
Khurshid: Congress party is team ‘Sonia’ of course! Rahul is still doing his job under Sonia Gandhi’s guidance, and under the same leadership we all party members are working and the same leader has opted for Dr Manmohan Singh to be our Prime Minister.
Swati: What will team Sonia finally say to team Anna when you will stand in front of each other?
Khurshid: Team Sonia is a strong, comprehensive and a large team. It is a successful one. Team Anna may be important in its own realm; we are already trying to learn something from them. When already a team is playing successfully and a small kid comes and says, “I also want to bowl,” a good captain always says, “Ok go ahead.” So that’s what team Sonia has done!
Adapted by: Sushmita Dutta