Ramdev Row: Hazare to Launch One-Day Nationwide Hunger Strike on June 8, His Team to Boycott Joint Committee Meeting to Draft Lokpal Bill

BeyondHeadlines Staff Reporter

New Delhi: Veteran Gandhian Anna Hazare has made his stand on the Lokpal Bill all the more tougher following the forceful eviction of Baba Ramdev from Delhi’s Ramlila Ground. Although the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in the centre made so far made several efforts to give explanations in support of the early morning of June 5 crackdown  on the yoga guru, Hazare is no more ready to soften his stand calling the government’s intention to curb corruption “suspect.”

His group, which comprises of RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal, former IPS Kiran Bedi, Swami Agnivesh, former Union law Minister Shanti Bhusham, among others, has decided to boycott the meetings of the joint committee to draft the Lokpal Bill till the government come clear on some of the key issues related to that proposed legislation. It also announced its decision to observe a one-day nationwide hunger strike on June 8 to protest against the government’s action against Ramdev and threatened to re-launch its agitation at Jantar Mantar if the government continued to dither on taking anti-corruption measures.

Addressing the media, Hazare said: “We are writing a letter to Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee raising certain issues on the Lokpal Bill. We have already made our stand clear on these issues. We would like the government to also state where it stands. After we receive the government’s response, we will decide whether any useful purpose can be served by our attending the committee meetings.”

In addition, the group said it would attend future meetings of the joint committee only if they were telecast live.

The next meeting of the 10-member joint committee is scheduled for today. Hazare and four of his colleagues — Shanti Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan, Santosh Hegde and Arvind Kejriwal — are the non-government representatives on the panel that also has five ministers as members. Pranab Mukherjee and Shanti Bhushan are the co-chairs of the committee that has given itself until June 30 to draft a strong legislation to set up the office of Lokpal. The panel, which was constituted in response to an agitation launched by Hazare, has had three meetings so far.

“The government has been trying to crush the anti-corruption movement. We have therefore decided not to attend the joint committee meetings,” Hazare said.

Shanti Bhushan went to the extent of demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers for the crackdown on Ramdev. He said the action was reminiscent of the Emergency years and sought an explanation from the Prime Minister on the reasons that provoked the police assault.

Interestingly, the belligerent stand of the Hazare group came on a day when its version of the Lokpal Bill came under sharp attack from a number of prominent civil society voices, including former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court A P Shah and former BSF director general Prakash Singh.

At a debate organised by the Foundation for Media Professionals, these independent voices tore into the stringent provisions being proposed in the Lokpal Bill by Hazare and his colleagues, saying investing the office of the Lokpal with extraordinary powers to investigate, prosecute and act as a judge would be counter-productive.

“Let us not draw a legislation that can be challenged on the grounds that it is violative of the basic structure of the Constitution. It would be wrong to assume that the Lokpal in itself would be able to change the world. Please do not overload the Lokpal with so much work that it gets crushed under its own responsibility and public expectations,” Prakash Singh said.

Environmental lawyer and social activist Usha Ramanathan said the kind of powers that are envisaged to be given to the Lokpal would invariably corrupt the institution, a view echoed by A P Shah as well. Shah favoured the exclusion of judiciary from the purview of the Lokpal.

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