Excerpts from the leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha's reply to the Prime Minister's statement
We have just heard a detailed statement from the hon. Prime Minister which not only disappoints us but does not really add to our information or knowledge. A list and resume of events is given which in the course of yesterday and day before newspapers and television channels have repeatedly told us. The Prime Minister, in his statement, besides giving us the detail of the events which have taken place, has posed a question before this Parliament.
I do not think there a serious difficulty in answering that question. But the question that he has posed as to who drafts the laws and who makes the laws in this country, I do not think there is a serious debate or anybody inside or outside this House is seriously disputing that. After reading his statement, I am left wondering as to who really runs this country and who rules this country. You have a serious political issue which is being debated for the last few months, which climaxed in the last few days, and now we find that the political leadership of this country is really hiding behind the men in uniform and tells India's Parliament and India's people that this entire crisis was being handled by some policemen and all the political issues which arise and the solutions which are being sought, the solution to them was that the police decided to invoke provisions of sections 151 and 107 of CrPC and thereafter the law started taking its own course.
I think it is time for the Prime Minister of India and the political leadership of the Government to really stand up and take bold decisions. He must go to the root of this issue as to why such a loss of confidence in this Government has taken place.
On the Independence Day, the most defining moment was not the Prime Minister of India unfurling the National Flag at the Red Fort but in the evening when the news spread that Shri Anna Hazare had gone and sat at the Rajghat, thousands of people, not brought by buses, voluntarily started arriving there in order to show solidarity and support. The defining moment was yesterday, something which even political parties may find difficult to organize, that the news of his arrest spreads and you find not in hundreds but thousands of places all over the country, every city, even in rural areas, protests start. Why is this that this has not happened in the past?
Some of us who participated in these movements when they had earlier taken place, I was a part of the movement led by Shri Jaiprakash Narayan, and some of these images which we saw in the last two days go even far beyond what we had even visualized and analyzed. The truth is that India today is exasperated with corruption; India today is exasperated with this political leadership of the Government, which is unable to tackle corruption and which has absolutely no solution except cover-ups to all. You had some of the most monumental scams in history which have taken place in the last few years. All we got was the routine phrase and the routine templates that this Government will have a zero tolerance level to corruption, this Government will now allow investigative agencies a free hand. But repeatedly, when the 2G scam took place, we were repeatedly told that there is nothing of a scam in it.
I am not getting into the details of those issues. But, you had situations, whether it is Telecom or it is National Highways or it is the Commonwealth Games, you pick up any infrastructural decision and that is the sector which has taken a set back. You find decisions being taken for collateral purposes and the best defence this Government had to offer for three years was, one, they lived in denial that there is no such scam which has taken place, and finally, whatever action this Government did take was not a voluntary action.
You were coerced by courts; you were compelled by the courts and by the course of public opinion and the Opposition in Parliament to start taking action against those who were responsible for all these scams. Why should we blame the youth of this country which has come out in lakhs yesterday when we have votes of confidence taking place in Parliament which are vitiated by corruption? Can we blame those people that it is not a fair cause that they are fighting for, where they are exasperated not only with the extent of corruption but also with the fact that the Government of the day is willing to condone it?
In such a situation, Sir, it is a wake up call for all of us that unless we put our house in order and this Government leads us all in putting that house in order, the people in this country will now become restless.
What really happened? The issue today is not as the Prime Minister, with utmost respect to him, who drafts the laws and who makes the laws. Has anybody in this country ever disputed that it is the authority ultimately of the sovereign Parliament to make the laws? Nobody has disputed that. Sir, unless this Government and its supporters address themselves to the right question, they will never get the right answer.The right question is not as to who frames the laws. There are two questions this Government has to answer.
The first is: Does it have a political will to fight corruption? When the Prime Minister says he has no magic wand, you don’t need a magic wand, you don’t need magics in order to fight corruption. All you need, Mr. Prime Minister is, a political will. The whole country will support a Prime Minister who says, ‘I have the authority, I have the stature and I have the moral stature to fight corruption.’ You determine that political will, you evolve that political will in yourself and then decide to fight corruption. You will find that you are in a position to fight corruption. You bring in then the necessary laws.
Instead what you have done is, you have unleashed a new political idiom against the critics of this Government. On the one hand you send Ministers to receive Baba Ramdev. You formed a Drafting Committee with Shri Anna Hazare and his team and then in the middle of the night you unleash them with lathis. You followed the police power approach to solve the political problem. What is the kind of Indian that we are seeing in the last few days? Political spokesmen are being used literally as hit men. That is the new role that they have to adopt. You pick up those crusading for probity in public life and unleash a series of political abuses on them. You start making allegations against them. Is that the level to which you have brought the level of political debate in this country? Then you stand up and cry before five editors with a sense of helplessness and say, ‘These are compulsions of political alliances and coalitions that I am unable to take action.’ Is that the answer that you have to political corruption?’
Smugness, Mr. Prime Minister, which has become a character of this Government, arrogance of power which has become a character of this Government, is not the methodology by which corruption can be fought.Power is not immortal. The more arrogant you are, the earlier it disappears. Please bear that in mind.
Therefore, when the question is to be posed today, the first question the whole country is asking and is before you is this. We, in the Opposition, today, ask you: Is your Government having a political will to fight corruption? If you decide that the answer is in the affirmative, it is only then that you can ever get the confidence of this nation back.
The second question -- this is the question the entire Opposition puts to you and also the civil society is putting to you -- is this. They are not saying that they will substitute this Parliament and draft laws All that they are saying and we are saying and we are we are reaffirming is, they have a right to put their point of view across. Members of civil society or any citizens' group or any citizen of this country has a right to campaign for his views. He has a right to crusade for his views. We are entitled to tell him how much we agree with him and how much we cannot accommodate his views. That is a part of the democratic discourse. But, they have a right to put their view point across. And, as a part of their right to put their view point across, they have a right to protest and they have a right to dissent.
It is this right to protest and this right to dissent which your Government is trying to scuttle and we are all here to oppose that.Let us see what you have done. The defence that you have put up is: you have first involved them in the Drafting Committee and you try and lead them up the garden path. Even when they ask you to involve the Opposition in the drafting process, your smugness persuades you. Your arrogance persuades to say that Opposition is not required at this moment. After leading them up the garden path, you find a stalemate with them. Then, you come up with a Bill, a Bill which almost provides for a Government-controlled Lokpal. The appointment process of that Lokpal is really gives an edge to the Government of the day to appoint that Lokpal. Obviously, that Bill may not inspire confidence with them. There are areas where we also have serious differences with the Bill.
But the issue, today, is not whether we agree with your version of the Bill or their version of the Bill. The issue, today, is how you have handled a political crisis.
Has this Government lost all sense of statecraft how political agitations are to be dealt with? You impose conditions. Sir, all of us have been in Opposition at some point of time or the other. All of us have been parties to protests. We have all courted arrest. The issue is, for holding a protest, Dharna or fast, when is it that the regime of the day says that I will impose 22 conditions on this protest. My conditions include, whether your members will come by car or they will walk, how many cars they can park there. My conditions include, whether you put up Shamianas or were you have to put up Shamianas. My conditions include, what should be the size of protest. The Government of the day, against whom the protest is being organized, will decide as to whether the people are entitled to a large protest or only a miniscule protest. You will never have more than 5,000 people in this protest. Is the Congress Party willing to give an undertaking to this country that it will never organize a protest of more than 5,000 people? Are you willing to abide by each of these conditions that you have imposed on Anna Hazare and his people?
Your people can go and break Section 144 in the adjoining State of Uttar Pradesh and you say that right to protest is my Fundamental Right! But, when it comes to Delhi, you adopt an alternative argument. So, what will be the size of protest, what will be the duration of the protest, the Government against which the protest is being organized will have a right to determine that.
So, I will determine who can protest against me; how he can protest; how long his protest will be; and, what the size of his protest will be. The power to impose conditions on a protest can legitimately be: Don’t indulge in violence and don’t disrupt public order. But, you cannot impose such unreasonable conditions which render a protest redundant; you can’t impose conditions that effectively take away the right of an effective protest. And, that is what the Government is seeking to do.
I think, this is a problem with all the Governments which have too many lawyers advising the Government.The ‘politics’ is a separate discipline and the ‘law’ is a separate discipline. The political problems are to be dealt with a political approach. The political approach is: If a country is exasperated with corruption, you address the problem of corruption. If a citizens’ group wants to protest, you allow him to protest. How can you rake up a plea today that there should be no participation outside Parliament of anyone outside Parliament in the drafting of the laws? What is the National Advisory Committee? It is a group of citizens. You are using them effectively to draft your laws. Your Ministers even don’t have the courage to start opposing the laws that they are drafting. So, if another group of citizen says, “It has a view point and please consider it; it wants to campaign, crusade”, they are not replacing Parliament.
Even the laws drafted by your NAC will come up before the Government or the Parliament. Therefore, if a group of citizens says that it has an alternate view, we may not eventually accept what they say, we may accept some suggestions of what they say. But how can you take away and snatch their right to say? And, what you have effectively done is, under advice of the very eminent lawyers in the Government, you have invoked the CrPC to solve political problems. If you decide to invoke such powers to solve a political problem, then, that reduces the Prime Minister of India to hide behind the Police Commissioner and say, “I did not decide this. It is the Police Commissioner who decided this.” That is the inevitable consequence of this. Therefore, the effective issue today is: Shri Anna Hazare, his group and lakhs and lakhs of citizens of this country – this figure is, now, probably, going to cross – have a right to say what they want to say. The track record is that they have never indulged in violence; they have not disrupted the public order; they have not been a threat to peace and tranquility. And, don’t tell us that Delhi has shrunk so much that there is no place in Delhi where we cannot effectively seat them for their protest or their sit-down or their dharna or their fast. Do you even recollect any illustration from the British regime where these kinds of restrictions were being imposed on the freedom fighters and Gandhiji? They had hundreds of protests. Have only miniscule protest, have only small protest, don’t have a large protest. If the Government of the day becomes so dictatorial, so oppressive, then, a citizens’ group may well say that it is willing to offer satyagraha and even go to prison. And, the truth, now, is your Government was being too clever by halves. You first led them up the garden path, then, you deserted them. Then, you brought in a Bill that does not satisfy anyone. When they chose to protest, you made them run around for weeks from one office to another as to whether they can get a permission to sit on a fast or not. Then, eventually, you quietly went early morning and arrested them. You thought that all these people of India will take it lying down.
But by the evening you saw the enormity and the magnitude of the protests and, suddenly, you decided to make a statement. Therefore, you make a statement, which, at least, does not inspire confidence to me. We heard that he is moving to the court. Therefore, since he is moving to the court, we realise that he has become very law-abiding. Therefore, since he has now become law-abiding, we went and tried to release him. Well, you saw the magnitude of the protests. Your advisers let you down. Your agencies let you down. They thought, nothing will happen in this country. They did not realise that India is already exasperated with you. It is fed up of corruption. It is fed up with those who are covering up for corruption. Therefore, you went begging him to come out of the prison. And, now, he had shown his moral strength to you. And the moral strength of his fast was, ‘Well, I am on a fast whether inside or outside the prison and my fast will continue.’ You are now in a trap. Therefore, unwilling to make a statement yesterday, today you have volunteered the statement. And the text of your statement is, ‘Can I somehow make it a confrontation between the Parliament and the Civil Society?’ Well, we are refusing to bite this bait. This is not a confrontation between the civil society and India’s Parliament. We are clear in India’s Parliament that Parliament alone will draft the law. But if citizens’ group wants to tell us something, we will listen to them. We may accept some of what they may say. We may not accept what they say. But they have a right of peaceful protest. Till the very end, we will uphold that right of peaceful protest that they have. You have given a statement that it is not the crushing of their right of peaceful protest that the Government is doing, but it is a great ideological debate between the Parliament and the civil society. We refuse to accept that as the agenda. That’s not the real question.
The real question, Mr. Prime Minister, is this. And, I will end with that note. Please be firm, please determine a political will. The Prime Minister is the tallest political functionary of the country. A Prime Minister can never be helpless in fighting corruption. Please develop a political will to fight corruption; you will solve most of your problems. Release each one of the persons that you have arrested. Allow them the right of peaceful protest at a reasonable place. If anybody violates the law, invoke your police powers. But don’t invoke them against peaceful protestors because, then, you will be threatening the right of dissent which is the very essence of Indian democracy. Having said this, Mr. Prime Minister, we reject this entire thesis that you have built up that this was a police power in order to prevent an apprehension of breach of peace.