'Mere Eyewash': Kharge's Refusal to Attend Lokpal Meet Puts the Scanner Back on Modi Govt

In a letter, Congress' Mallikarjun Kharge urged the prime minister to be more 'statesman-like’ and to amend the law if he truly is serious about appointing a Lokpal.

New Delhi: Charging that by inviting him as a “special invitee” to a meeting of the selection committee under the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act 2013, the Centre has reduced the proceedings from a “a sacred procedure to a political pretence”, the Leader of Congress in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, wrote yesterday in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi while declining the invitation. His reaction comes in the wake of a strong stand taken by transparency and rights activists who had questioned if as a special invitee he would be able to oppose or vote against the government’s choice of a nominee.

In the letter, Kharge said he had been invited to the meeting, scheduled for March 1 by the Department of Personnel and Training (DopT), as a “special invitee”. Noting that he, his party and the entire opposition were of the view that the “special invitee invitation” was a “concerted effort to exclude the independent voice of the opposition altogether from the selection process of the most important anti-corruption watchdog”, Kharge also claimed that this move also negated the “letter and spirit” of the Lokpal Act 2013.

‘Statesman-like conduct expected from PM’

Stating that a “a more apt and statesman-like conduct is expected from the prime minister of the country,” Kharge conveyed to Modi that the reason that he his turning down the invite is also because his “mere presence as special invitee without rights of participation, recording of my opinion and voting would be a mere eyewash ostensibly aimed at showcasing the participation of the opposition in the selection process”.

He said the intent and objective of the Act reflects that “Leader of Opposition” cannot be substituted as a “special invitee”. Therefore, Kharge said: “It is a matter of surprise that your government is choosing to adopt this route as a mere paper formality rather than seek a meaningful and constructive participation.”

Anti-corruption activists had also cautioned against the ‘eyewash’

In fact, ahead of today’s scheduled meeting, some anti-corruption activists had claimed that the denial of “Leader of Opposition” status to the Congress leader and his inclusion in the panel that was to choose an “eminent jurist” was an eyewash.

With the post of the Lokpal not having been filled up even four years after the Lokpal law was notified on January 1, 2014,  the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information had written a detailed letter to Modi in January this year stating that the delay in the appointment “has created a strong perception that that your government does not wish to put in place an effective anti-corruption institutional framework”.

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Subsequently, in February this year, the Supreme Court had, during the hearing of a PIL in the matter, asked the secretary of the DoPT to file an affidavit about the “steps taken and proposed” by the Centre to appoint the Lokpal. Thereafter, the DoPT had sent out the invitation to Kharge to attend the meeting as a special invitee.

Special invitee status was not in accordance with law

The approach of the DoPT was opposed by RTI activists. Anjali Bharadwaj of NCPRI had questioned the manner in which the entire exercise was being conducted and charged that it was being done more on the whims of the prime minister than in accordance with law.

“The law says the the LoP should be a member of the selection committee but this government has not recognised anyone as that, which according to us is wrong. They could have easily recognised the leader of the single largest opposition party as the leader of the opposition. But if they were not doing so, then the right thing to do would have been to bring about a change in the law to allow such a leader to sit in the selection committee meeting,” she had said.

The letter by Kharge has also been tweeted by the Congress.

‘If you are serious about Lokpal, amend the law, get Parliament nod’

Kharge has also told the prime minister in his letter that if his government is indeed “serious about ensuring that the Lokpal is appointed with the sanctity it deserves”, then it should bring an ordinance in the shape of an amending bill and place it before the Parliament, when it reconvenes in March 2018.

Stating that he was declining the invite as a “special invitee” to uphold the inviolability of the Lokpal Act, he ended the letter by reminding Modi that it was his and the party’s duty to “never permit dilution of the provisions of the Lokpal Act, which was enacted with hopes and aspirations of millions of Indians as the highest body to fight graft and ensure accountability.”

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