Prime minister’s honest acceptance is going to burn us all; humanrescueintermedia caption review on a Telegraph article “Hand on heart, PM flags all-bill option”- India report

Hand on heart, PM flags all-bill option
Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, Aug. 25: Anna Hazare’s Ramlila brinkmanship flamed deep into another night despite the UPA’s many accommodations and in defiance of mounting civil society and intelligentsia opinion that the government had committed to enough on the Lokpal legislation for him to break his fast.

Hazare and his core team of Arvind Kejriwal. Prashant Bhushan and Kiran Bedi remained unmoved by public and bipartisan commitment from the highest quarters that key features of their Jan Lokpal draft will become intrinsic to the parliamentary venture for a “strong and effective” ombudsman.

But many among their vocal supporters, Swami Agnivesh and Baba Ramdev included, had begun to argue the 10-day standoff must be called off in response to the day’s central and singular act played out by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Parliament.

He placed a rarely exhibited object on the table of the Lok Sabha this afternoon: his heart. It was at once an injured and intent thing, a little ravaged by relentless accusation but wholly resolute on fighting them off.

“When charges are leveled against me, it hurts,” he told a House already sensed of his turned tone and tenor. “All I can say is that if any wrongdoing has been done by me, I invite the Leader of the Opposition to look at my property which I may have accumulated in the last 41 years, members of my family. I would accept the verdict of the Leader of the Opposition if they find that I have used public office to amass wealth for myself or for any member of my family.”

This was radioactive anguish on display; allegations that he had connived with corruption — last made a day earlier by Murli Manohar Joshi of the BJP on the same floor — seemed to have burned into him. He was returning fire extempore, discarding his read-from-text mode.

“Yesterday, he (Joshi) made a powerful speech and he turned into a personal attack on me as if I am the fountainhead of corruption,” Singh said, affronted. “In the course of seven years as Prime Minister, I may have made mistakes. Who is above making mistakes? To err is human but to accuse me of evil intentions, of conniving at corruption is a charge I firmly repudiate. In my seven years as Prime Minister even when the Opposition members have accused me of many crimes, I have never used harsh language in describing the conduct of any member of this House.”

The treasury applauded, the Opposition merely listened on, as if itself numbed by the depth of personal wounding it had caused.

The Prime Minister bore into the silence with a few more certificates to himself. “Whatever the members of the Opposition may say, the fact is that India is respected all over the world. I think that is because of the inherent strength of our economy, of our polity, of our democratic system but at the margin, in these seven years or as earlier as finance minister, I did make a small contribution in my own way to enhance the prestige of this country.”

By the time his opposite number, Sushma Swaraj, rose to respond it was evident the conviction of Singh’s discourse had echo-impacted all corners of the House.

Swaraj sued for common cause and said the Prime Minister’s case on strengthening Lokpal provisions and requesting Anna Hazare to end his fast should be the adopted plea of Parliament itself.

Once he was done with venting personal outrage, the Prime Minister lavished encomium and entreaty on Hazare en route to affirming his resolve not merely to create a “strong and effective” Lok Pal but also to cleansing corruption.

“He has become the embodiment of our people’s disgust and concern about tackling corruption. I salute him, I applaud him,” Singh said of Hazare. “He has made his point, it has been registered with us.”

The Prime Minister said he “shared the perception” of deep corruption in public life but sought to convince the House — and the national constituency listening in — that “in the two-and-a-half-year period left to us, we will do everything in our power to clean the system of this country… we should collectively work to find credible approaches, credible solutions to deal with this scourge is also a matter, which unites all sections of thinking public opinion in our country.”

As proof of purpose, the Prime Minister was willing to make the extraordinary gesture of admitting demands contained in the Hazare group’s Jan Lokpal bill for discussion in Parliament before sending views to the standing committee.

“I have not thought over this matter in great depth,” the Prime Minister said, “but a thought comes to me that perhaps we could have a debate in this House on all the bills that are in the public domain and have a discussion what are the weak points of various bills and what are the strong points of various bills and at the end of that debate, send the whole record for consideration of the standing committee of the Parliament.

“I have a feeling that this will meet the point that Shri Anna Hazare and his colleagues have been making that Parliament must have a chance to give its views on their bill before sending it to the standing committee.”

Singh felt this via media would “respect parliamentary supremacy and, at the same time, enable Parliament to take on board ideas contained in the Lokpal bill drafted by Anna Hazare and his colleagues”.

At pains to underline his commitment to root corruption out, the Prime Minister said: “We have produced a bill which reflects the thinking of our government. But we are open to persuasion and we have an open mind and when we discuss this bill, whether in Parliament or in the standing committee, we will work with a single-minded devotion to ensure that we leave behind for posterity a Lokpal Bill which does credit to our concerns for meeting the challenge of corruption.”

Having made that commitment, though, the Prime Minister articulated a detailed meditation on the nature of corruption, arguing broadly that a strong Lokpal alone cannot be an effective instrument against the scourge.

He called corruption a “multifaceted problem” and said that measures to tackle it went much beyond the realm of the central government alone. The ending of the licence-permit-quota system under the liberalisation regime, which he pioneered, and rationalisation of the taxation structure had cut into corrupt practices, the Prime Minister held, but added that much more needed to be done.

Among them, accountability of state governments on public spending, streamlining of public administration and the public distribution system to plug leaks, a strict procurement regime to cleanse contracting practices, and reducing the amount of discretion ministers enjoy, a matter already being looked into by a committee headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee.

“There is anger in the country. There is anger about the misuse of public offices,” the Prime Minister said, cognisant of the shrill street clamour under the Hazare banner, “We will work with all sections of this House to have a Lokpal, who is strong, who is effective and about which there is a national consensus.” That was a commitment whose earnestness was recognised, if not on the angered street, in the House of the People this afternoon.


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