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'Without Sonia Gandhi this government is in coma'

Last updated on: August 24, 2011 14:44 IST

'Let there be a referendum on judicial accountability'

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, one of the brains behind the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement for a stronger Lokpal bill, spoke to rediff.com's Sheela Bhatt on the seventh day of Hazare's fast.

Read the first part of Prashant Bhushan's interview here

In the second and concluding part of his interview, Bhushan talks about his differences with civil society's Aruna Roy, judicial accountability, right-wing voices joining in Hazare's movement, and the government's delay tactics.

Since the last three days non-government voices are also speaking loudly against the movement. After all, Aruna Roy has credibility and Arundhati Roy is a reputed international figure.

See, Aruna Roy's views are well known. She is entitled to her views. We feel that the position she has taken is not logical. One can discuss the grievance redressal authority. That is the only aspect on which I feel we can agree. On all other issues we had lengthy discussions. I do not agree with her views. I think these views arrive out of fundamental misconceptions, lack of clarity or confusion about the role of the investigative agency and about how the judiciary could be made accountable.

I have been working on the issue of judicial accountability for the last 20 years. I feel I have a reasonable understanding of the issue, and I don't agree with her. See, there are, unfortunately, some judges, even honest judges, who feel that the judiciary must not be made accountable to any outside body except to the judiciary itself. This business of self-accountability is an oxymoron. Unfortunately, these judges don't seem to understand that. There is nothing like self-accountability. It's the biggest conflict of interests. Therefore, we agree to disagree with Aruna. The whole country is agreeing to disagree.

Let there be a referendum on the issue of judicial accountability. Not even five percent of the people will support the proposal that Aruna Roy is making or these judges are making.

Let me ask you one more time, since the last 20 years you have always been working with liberals and secular people. Are you not feeling uncomfortable, today, when lots of right-wing noises are present in the crowd supporting Anna Hazare? 

That is true. I do feel a little uncomfortable when very right-wing voices or when very strident, aggressive voices also come and support us. I do feel uncomfortable about some of the smses doing the rounds which are abusive towards the Congress and its people and so on. I do feel uncomfortable with it and I think those need to be curbed and those people need to be told that this is not correct.

But, you see, in a broad-based movement there will always be all kinds of people who come and support that movement. There will always be some people with whom one is not comfortable. But, in any large movement, so long as its core leadership is very clear about its methodology, about its ideology, I don't think there should be much problem.

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Image: Social activist Aruna Roy
Photographs: Uttam Ghosh
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'They are just trying to send us on a wild goose chase'

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It seems there are egos present on both sides. Many people find Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bushan's egos pitted against those of the government mediators.

I don't think I have any ego. I don't think I am putting my personal ego in this issue at all. Arvind Kejriwal and Anna Hazare are seeing only that this government has been so utterly dishonest and so utterly insincere about curbing corruption that after so much discussion, in the guise of the Lokpal bill they have introduced a Promotion of Corruption Bill which is intended to protect corrupt officers and harass whistle-blowers and NGOs who are protesting against corruption.

Now, this debate over the Lokpal bill has been going on since the last 42 years; very intensely since the last eight months. Every point of view has come on the table. Everybody knows what the various points of views are. Anna is saying we had enough of discussions etc. Eight standing committees of Parliament have gone through it. You are sending us to the ninth standing committee. Again, it will get stuck because there is no political will. There is an utterly dishonest and insincere government. They are just trying to send us on a wild goose chase of standing committees etc.

Therefore, I, as a citizen of this country, have the right to protest against the action of the government. I have a right to say what needs to be done. Anna Hazare is only saying, bring the Jan Lokpal bill in Parliament, have a discussion on it, have a vote on it and pass it in the session because we have had enough of discussions through standing committees and so on.

Which are the three conditions which are non-negotiable for you when you sit down with the government for a final settlement of the conflict?

One of the three things that Anna has said is the question of inclusion of the prime minister (under the ambit of the Lokpal bill). Second, having Lokayuktas in states to deal with corruption in the state government and local bodies. And Anna says we should include all public servants including the lower cadres of government servants in the Lokpal bill.

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Image: Right to Information Act activist Arvind Kejriwal, who is also a part of Team Anna

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'In the absence of Sonia Gandhi, this government is in coma'

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The issue of having state Lokayuktas may bring in the issue of federalism.

There won't be any federal issue. I can explain it in two seconds. Criminal law; substantive and procedural, is under the Concurrent list of the Constitution which means any aspect of criminal law including criminal law relating to corruption can be brought under the central law. Just as the Rights To Information Act was brought and state information commissioners were created under the same central act, the same way state Lokayuktas can be created.

You see, this is clearer in the case of implementation of international treaties. The United Nations Convention Against Corruption is under the Central list. The Lokpal Act is to implement the UN Convention Against Corruption.

Jairam Ramesh has said he is drafting a new law to address corruption in the lower bureaucracy.

He is talking about Grievances Redressal, it has nothing to do with Lokpal.  I have no problem with it, provided it comes immediately along with the Lokpal bill. If a credible independent authority is created, then I have no problem with it, personally. But, what we see is that the government can put off the issue on the pretext that it will bring in a separate law and, as we know, that law never comes. 

Why did the government keep mum for the first seven days of Anna's fast?

In the absence of Sonia Gandhi, this government is in coma. There is nobody in this government to take a position, to take a strong political decision.

Concluded


Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi

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