Take Lokpal bill across finish line, Rahul appeals to parties

New Delhi, Dec 14 : Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi Saturday made a strong appeal to political parties to support the Lokpal bill in parliament, saying it was a "serious weapon to fight corruption" that needed their "one percent" support to take it across the finishing line.

Showing a new, proactive face of the party as he had promised after the recent assembly election reverses, Gandhi, accompanied by a battery of senior ministers at the Congress party headquarters at 24, Akbar Road, said the Lokpal bill was a matter of "national importance" and "will completely transform the issue of corruption".

Gandhi's appeal came as the Lokpal bill, to be discussed in the Rajya Sabha Monday, has won the approval of Gandhian crusader Anna Hazare who is on fast in his village Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra since Dec 10 for setting up the institution of ombudsman to fight corruption.

Gandhi said: "Our work is to create infrastructure to fight corruption and we have done that ... Anna is on a fast, that is his perspective. Our job is to give a powerful Lokpal bill, what we need is one percent movement from political parties, and I am pretty confident that if we work together we can deliver."

He said there is broad consensus on the bill. "Congress party fully supports this bill and we would like the opposition and other party members to work with us and help us pass it in parliament," said Gandhi, flanked by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, Law Minister Kapil Sibal, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office V. Narayanasamy and media cell chief Ajay Maken.

Gandhi brushed away suggestions that the Congress was trying to push the Lokpal bill ahead of the 2014 general elections or after being rattled by the success of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

"There was no urgency to pass the bill ... We've been working full time on the bill, which is stronger than before. This is not to do with AAP. It is to do with corruption, and we have something similar in the RTI (Right to Information)," he said.

To a question on the Samajwadi Party opposing the bill and if it was due to the Congress reverses in the elections, the Congress leader said: "It is not a matter of win or lose. This bill will help India and that is why we want to pass it. Now, we have consensus and are on the finishing line. The Congress is committed to pass it, and now everyone should pass."

He said the single biggest step the Congress had taken against corruption was the RTI Act when the party-led government was well in the saddle. "When passed RTI, we were doing well. The argument that we are doing the Lokpal bill because of elections is unfair."

Describing the bill, Chidambaram said the legislation "balances the interests of the government servant, the investigating agency, the prosecuting agency and recognises the pre-eminence of Lokpal."

He also said "one or two parties" have reservations about certain provisions of the bill and appealed to them to set aside their reservations and pass the bill in the winter session.

The Lokpal bill was passed in the Lok Sabha in Dec 2011. The winter session, scheduled to end Dec 20, unless it is extended, is likely to be the penultimate session of parliament before next year's national election.

Sibal said the Central Bureau of Investigation would work under the Lokpal. "This bill looks after that." There would be a separate directorate of investigation and prosecution and the process of selection of the CBI members has been laid down. "The mantris (ministers) and government servants will be under the bill."

"The dream of the people of an independent Lokpal ... we have strived to bring it with the bill," said Sibal.

Chidambaram also said they had stood by the version of the parliament select committee and they expect the bill to be passed by the Rajya Sabha.

According to Congress sources, they are already working to win over the Samajwadi Party to support the bill in parliament. With Hazare already indicating his support for the legislation, the passage of the bill looks promising, sources indicated.

--IANS (Posted on 14-12-2013)

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