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Lokpal debate: How Sonia Gandhi claims some credit

April 21, 2011 02:14 IST

Even as the media continued to dig the dirt on members of Team Anna (with a little help from politicians and political parties) Congress chief Sonia Gandhi in her reply to Anna Hazare has assured him that she does not 'support or encourage the politics of smear campaigns.'

Keeping herself on the right side of popular sentiment and the prevailing mood of the nation against corruption, she, while replying to his April 18 letter, reiterated that "there is an urgent necessity to combat graft and corruption."

She said, "You should have no doubt of my commitment in the fight for probity in public life. I strongly support the institution of a Lokpal that is consistent with the practices and conventions of our parliamentary democracy."

As the chairperson of the National Advisory Council, in which capacity this letter was written, Sonia Gandhi said the Lokpal bill was very much a part of the NAC agenda.

A working group on transparency, accountability and governance was set up under the convenorship of Aruna Roy and they held consultations with several members of the civil society including Shanti Bhushan, Karnataka Lokayukta Dr Santosh Hedge, Prashant Bhushan, Swami Agnivesh and Arvind Kejriwal, and it was decided to carry forward the discussion till the next meeting on April 28.

In his letter Anna Hazare had written to Sonia Gandhi that he had said that broad content of the Jan Lokpal bill had been agreed upon in the April 4 meeting, barring two issues, and he had asked her to build a consensus on this and recommend the outcome to the government.

In her letter Sonia Gandhi said, "This is the very course that the NAC was following until the process was, as you know, overtaken by subsequent events," which referred to his fast unto death at Jantar Mantar and the consequent setting up of the joint committee.

Indirectly, Sonia claimed some credit for initiating the debate on the Lokpal bill.    

A senior Congress leader said that while Sonia Gandhi has kept the popular mood in mind while responding to the letter and has made it clear that she does not encourage or support smear campaigns, this should be read along with the official Congress briefings held in the last few days where the party had made it clear that in a democracy everyone has the right to voice their views and give their opinions.

Congress leaders said it was right that as the head of the party she took a broader overview and associated herself with the popular mood, while leaders of the party did their job in exposing some of the 'interesting details' of Hazare and the Bhushans and sundry others who have taken a 'moral high ground on the issue of corruption.'

While Shanti Bhushan has filed for defamation against All India Congress Committee General Secretary Digvijay Singh, the latter has said he does not know why the Bhushans are so offended with what he has said. He said that he has raised a few points, which should be answered.

Digvijay Singh said there should be absolute transparency in what they are doing, since they have set themselves as the watchdog on corruption.

He wanted to know why a background picture of Bharat Mata was used at Jantar Mantar since this a favourite backdrop of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, why there was no photo of Mahatama Gandhi in the backdrop, why they have ignored civil society members like Aruna Roy and Harsh Mandar. 

Digvijay Singh said he was not trying to undermine the movement against corruption as is being alleged, since Sonia Gandhi was the first leader who openly supported Anna Hazare's movement as well as the Lokpal bill.

While the war of words on both sides continued, it is interesting that a newspaper has brought out details of large tracts of land allotted to Shanti Bhushan and his son Jayant who is also a lawyer appearing against the Mayawati government in Noida.

Jayant Bhushan appeared against the Mayawati government in a PIL filed on the Noida statues case, with sources alleging that the case was diluted so much that Mayawati won the PIL. Subsequently he and his father were allotted farmland from the discretionary quota by the Uttar Pradesh chief minister.

Former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh who now holds a daily durbar of the media has also taken on the Bhushans and has on Wednesday revealed details of how Shanti Bhushan traveled in a private plane and were paid Rs 50 lakhs for a case concerning Mulayam Singh Yadav to disprove the claim that the Bhushans did not know Amar Singh or his former political boss.

Sources said that the Congress has done its homework thoroughly on all the members of Team Anna. As one senior leader put it, "What Sonia Gandhi is saying is true. We are not into the politics of smear campaign, but merely telling the world what the truth is."

Renu Mittal in New Delhi