Rahul for consensus to ensure Lokpal's passage

Written by PTI | New Delhi | Updated: Dec 15 2013, 02:09am hrs
Rahul Gandhi, lokpalRahul Gandhi appealed to all political parties to support legislation saying it is a "very very powerful instrument" in the fight against corruption (Reuters)
Giving a big push to the Lokpal Bill, Rahul Gandhi today appealed to political parties to set aside differences to ensure its passage to fight corruption and dismissed suggestions that Congress drubbing in Delhi polls and Anna Hazare's fast were forcing the government's hand.

Flanked by Finance, Law and Personnel ministers, Gandhi addressed a special press conference at the Congress headquarters to make a strong pitch asking parties to set aside their differences for its passage.

"Our job is to give this country a powerful Lokpal Bill. We are 99 per cent there and what we need is one per cent from the political parties and we can actually finish and deliver Lokpal," he said.

With the Lokpal Bill slated for a debate in Rajya Sabha on Monday and apparently referring to Samajwadi Party's opposition to the Bill, Gandhi said, "all parties should together accomplish this bill. I appeal to all parties to support this bill.. this is in national interest."

Asked whether the government's push for the bill was to show to the voter something in the wake of the drubbing at the hands of the AAP in Delhi and Hazare's indefinite fast, he said "This is not...we have struggled for a while but at every step Parliament is disrupted. This has to do with corruption and this has to do with serious weapon to deal with corruption like RTI."

Gandhi said Lokpal is an "extremely important legislation" and is part of a larger framework to deal with corruption, of which RTI is the "single most powerful" weapon.

Again when asked whether government's sudden interest was because of electoral debacle, Gandhi said, "it is not a question of victory or defeat. This bill will help India.... this argument that we doing this as a result of elections is a bit unfair."

Asked whether Hazare would be convinced by the government efforts, he said, "our intention was to bring an anti- corruption infrastructure. We will keep doing this...Hazare is on fast, that is his perspective."

The Lokpal Bill, in an amended form after consideration by the Select Committee, was brought back to the Rajya Sabha yesterday for consideration but a discussion on it was thwarted by Samajwadi Party members.

"We should put aside our little differences, get together and finish the bill in national interest," Gandhi said.

When asked about SP's opposition to the bill, Chidambaram said, "it is possible, one or two parties may have reservations on the bill. I don't think there is any party which says we shall not or should not have the Lokpal. No party has said so. They have reservations.

"Our appeal to them is to keep these reservations aside. We want to cross the finish line and get it into a law. I think the country needs a Lokpal and we can have a Lokpal in this session if parties set aside their reservations".

Among the amendments made in the bill are delinking of the setting up of Lokayuktas in states, a highly controversial provision because of which many parties had opposed it in the House in December 2011.

The new bill also grants powers to ombudsman to sanction prosecution against public servants.

Chidambaram said the government has made only two, three changes in the Select Committee report and the Minister of State for Personnel has moved official amendments to the original bill.

"There is nothing in the bill that erodes the authority of the Lokpal.... This bill acknowledges pre-eminence of Lokpal,.. it gives powers of an independent investigating agency...

"This bill balances the interests of the government, the interests of the investigative agency, the interests of the prosecuting agency and the government servants and it recognises the pre-eminence of the Lokpal," said Chidambaram.

Chidambaram rejected suggestions that Lokpal will become all powerful and encroach on the Prime Minister's power. "There is already a law which provides for appointment of CBI chief. There is a process. The Lokpal bill will not deal with appointment of CBI chief."

Gandhi did not answer a question whether his statement that there is a need to learn from AAP was admission of failure of Congress after Congress general secretary Ajay Maken asked reporters to confine their queries to Lokpal.

Law Minister Kapil Sibal said the CBI will work under the Lokpal and the authority will be "broadbased" and "inclusive".