'Let them put us in Tihar'
Accusing the government of reducing the meetings of the joint committee to a mere "show of formality", Gandhian Anna Hazare expressed surprise that the government told them that finally two Bills will be sent to the Cabinet -- one drafted by the civil society and one by the government representatives.
"Even before the meetings of the joint committee, the government had their version of the Lokpal Bill and we had ours. Why did they waste so much time and energy in the meetings of the joint committee then? If in the end two drafts had to be presented, why was a joint committee constituted? The truth is that the government is not prepared to make a good anti-corruption bill," Hazare said.
Hazare threatened to resume his agitation on August 16 again if the government continued this way.
"We had stopped our agitation at Jantar Mantar because the government had said that they would discuss what we wanted. But that is not happening. We will resume our agitation from August 16. The government forcefully put a stop to Baba Ramdev's agitation and chances are they will use force again to stop ours. Let them! We are prepared for their lathis and bullets," Hazare threatened.
Hazare was at his wittiest best on Thursday. When asked what he would do if the government imposed Section 144 again, Hazare replied, "Arrey, let them put us in Tihar. There we will continue our agitation by enjoying the free meals inside the jail!"
Reportage: Sahim Salim
Image: A poster supporting Anna Hazare's fight against corruption
'Govt is not ready for debate or discussion'
Joint Draft committee member Arvind Kejriwal was vocal in his disappointment in the government.
"The government says that the Lokpal would be an 11-member body. Complaints from across the country will be decided by these 11 people -- even grievances from ordinary citizens. In dealing with the tens of thousands of complaints from across the country, the system will just collapse. How can these eleven members be expected to deal with the sheer volume," Kejriwal said.
"It has become clear that the government conducted all the meetings just as a formality. The government is not ready for a debate or a discussion. When we present our arguments, they just dismiss them. And they present their points as decisions. Where is the promised discussion? If they had just wanted to prepare a bill as per their fancy, why did they call us," Kejriwal told rediff.com post the conference.
Kejriwal said of the 71 points they presented to the government, the government agreed to only 15.
"On May 2, we presented 40 points in our draft. We told the government that these points should be discussed with the public, which they denied, saying that a public consultation will take place only after the final bill is drafted. We told them that we were conducting public consultations already and asked if we could present the results of these to them. (Finance Minister) Pranab Mukherjee agreed and in the meeting on May 21, we presented 31 points which had been drafted solely based on public consultations," Kejriwal said.
Image: Arvind Kejriwal
'They are hiding everything'
"Of the 71 points, they have agreed to just 15 and the rest were referred for discussion at a later stage. That later stage never came and at Wednesday's meeting, much to our shock, they declared that the joint meeting proceedings were over. How can that be, when not even 20 per cent of what we wanted to discuss has been discussed? They said that in the next meeting, they would see whether there could be consensus on any more issues and finally send two drafts to the Cabinet," Kejriwal said.
When rediff.com told Kejriwal post the meeting that Law Minister Veerappa Moily had said that the government agreed to 34 out of 40 principles laid down by the civil society for a strong Lokpal Bill, Kejriwal said, "That is not true. They have only agreed to 15 points. But if he is saying that the government is prepared to discuss the rest, we welcome that decision."
Kejriwal accused the government of being non-transparent.
"They don't want to make these meetings public because they don't have any sound arguments for their points. We requested them, as joint committee members, to give us the audio recordings of the meetings, which they refused. When we asked them if they promised to give us the tapes after the bill was drafted, they were non-committal. They are hiding everything," Kejriwal said.
Image: Supporters march for Anna Hazare
'Meetings were just a formality'
Eminent lawyer Prashant Bhushan said that the very idea of Lokpal was to create an independent authority to investigate corruption cases as existing agencies are government controlled.
"There is so much corruption because the hands of existing agencies are tied. The Central Bureau of Investigation has to take permission from the government to prosecute high-profile cases, which the government often refuses. Moreover, the government has administrative control over the CBI. The Central Vigilance Commission just has advisory powers and it is up to the government whether or not to accept the recommendations. That is why what we needed was an independent body which can investigate and prosecute. The government's version of Lokpal will reduce it to a symbolic institution," Bhushan said.
Threatening the government that the wide publicity of the discussions has educated the public, Bhushan said that the government would have to bear the consequences if they drafted a weak Lokpal Bill.
"That is the only good outcome of the meetings of the joint committee -- educating the public. Otherwise, all the meetings were just a formality," Bhushan said.
Image: A rally in support of Anna Hazare
'If what I am doing is blackmailing, then so be it'
Responding to a query from a journalist on whether the civil society members were blackmailing the government, a visibly worked up Hazare said, "The government keeps forgetting that during elections, they go to the people to literally beg for votes. If at the end of it, they are not accountable, we will question them. If what I am doing is blackmailing, then so be it. If my blackmailing is bettering the society, I will continue doing so."
Bhushan added, "If the so called elected representatives think that they have the right to govern and pass a law according to their whims and fancies, then they are wrong. That defeats the very idea of a democracy."
Responding the same query, Kejriwal told rediff.com post the conference, "It is the job of the elected representatives to present the wishes of the people in the Parliament. The government is looting money from the common man, which includes me. And when I question them, they ask me to get elected first and then ask. I will not do such a thing. I will raise my voice against the non-transparency of the government even if I am not elected."
Image: Prashant Bhushan