Gandhi's push for the bill came amid United Progressive Alliance government's efforts to get the bill passed in the winter session that began Dec 5. The revised Lokpal bill, tabled by Minister of State for Personnel V. Narayanasamy Friday in the Rajya Sabha, is slated to be taken up for discussion Monday.
In a relief to the government, activist Anna Hazare, who has been fasting for the last five days for passage of Lokpal Bill, said he would call off his agitation after the law was enacted. However, Aam Aadmi P arty leader Arvind Kejrial expressed surprise at Hazare's consent for the bill and said the activst was being misguided.
Soon after Gandhi addressed a press conference, BJP leaders hit out at the Congress accusing the party-led central government of having "obstructed the bill in various ways". They said the government had been forced inside and outside the parliament to move forward on the bill.
Gandhi, flanked union ministers Kapil Sibal, P. Chidambaram and Narayanasamy at the party headquarters here, batted strongly for the Lokpal bill. He said it was a "serious weapon to fight corruption" and sought the help of all political parties in passing it at the earliest.
Showing a new, proactive face of the party as he had promised after the recent assembly election reverses, Gandhi said the Lokpal bill was a matter of "national importance" and "will completely transform the issue of corruption."
He rejected suggestions that the government was pushing the legislation because of Aam Aadmi Party's electoral success in Delhi assembly polls and activist Anna Hazare going on a fast on the issue.
"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," he said.
To a question on the Samajwadi Party opposing the bill, the Congress leader said the party was committed to pass the bill and "now everyone should pass."
He said the single biggest step that the Congress had taken against corruption was the Right to Information Act.
"The argument that we are doing the Lokpal bill because of elections is unfair"
"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.
He said these were among several steps the government had in mind to fight corruption.
This was Gandhi's third interaction with the media within a week, a far cry from the earlier Gandhi who shied away from the media in the national capital and has been roundly criticised for it. Party sources said he is likely to address more issue-based press conferences.
Reacting to Gandhi's remarks, BJP leader Arun Jaitley said the "government had tried to obstruct the bill in various ways." He said a government controlled Lokpal bill was passed in the Lok Sabha in Dec 2011 through majority though BJP had disagreements.
Jaitley, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said the government had "partly diluted" the recommendations made by the select committee of Rajya Sabha which had looked into the bill.
He said that Lokpal bill "had been pending" for the past 46 years.
"Our proposal is don't get proceedings disturbed through allies and supporting parties. Let's pass the bill Monday. If there is disturbance, the BJP is prepared to pass it without discussion," Jaitley said.
Jaitley's counterpart in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said the party did not want to give any excuses with the government. "Let Rajya Sabha pass Lokpal bill on Monday. We will pass the bill in the Lok Sabha Tuesday," she said on Twitter.
Samajwadi Party MP Naresh Agrawal said his party was opposed to the Lokpal bill.
Speaking to reporters in Ralegan Siddhi, Hazare said he will call off his fast after the bill was passed by the two houses and was signed by President Pranab Mukherjeee.
Hazare's fasts in the capital had brought the Lokpal bill to the political centrestage.
However, Kejriwal expressed strong disagreement.
"I m really surprised. How can Anna accept sarkari lokpal bill? Sarkari lokpal is a "jokepal". Who is misguiding Anna?," he said on twitter.
Analysts said the presence of senior ministers on the same dais with Gandhi was not just to demonstrate that the party and government were on the same page but also to take political credit of an issue that has been seen to be one of the major causes of the party's electoral rout.
--IANS (Posted on 14-12-2013)