The Congress’s attempt to be seen as fighting corruption by bringing legislation and instituting a Lokpal has run into complications, with Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj deciding to go to President Pranab Mukherjee to protest against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s reluctance to nominate a consensus nominee to the selection panel for the Lokpal.
A meeting of ex-officio members of the committee on Monday approved the nomination of senior lawyer P P Rao to the panel, overruling Swaraj’s objection by a majority of 3-1. The Prime Minister, Speaker, and a nominee of the Chief Justice of India are the other ex-officio members of the selection committee. “Prime Minister suggested the name of P P Rao. I voiced my disagreement as he is too much identified with the Congress. I suggested that let us have someone neutral with stature as the fifth member of the panel. Since the country has waited for over 40 years, our first step (in picking the Lokpal) should instill faith in the common public,” Swaraj told reporters on Tuesday.
Speaker Meira Kumar and Chief Justice P Sathasivam’s nominee Justice H L Dattu were said to have given their consent after the PM proposed Rao’s name.
Swaraj said her request for “deferring the meeting” to forge a consensus or widen the choice of names, and her suggestion to agree on another candidate, were rejected by the PM who insisted on Rao.
“He kept requesting me to agree to P P Rao’s name but did not heed to my suggestion to agree to the other name, (former attorney general and nominated Rajya Sabha member) K Parasaran, from the panel suggested by the government.
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“Prime Minister, consequently, asked for my disagreement to be registered, to which I suggested that the letter of recommendation to the President should mention that Leader of Opposition proposed the name of K Parasaran and it was by a majority of 3-1 P P Rao’s name be recommended,” Swaraj said.
She argued that “going by the majority rule instead of the unanimity route” created apprehensions about the future processes in the selection of the Lokpal and its members. “They (Congress) want to pack the body with loyalists. Had there been an open mind, there would have been discussion on other names, but they appeared to have come with a firm mind,” Swaraj said.
It was not clear until evening when she would meet the President. Though there is no formal redressal mechanism against being overruled, Swaraj has decided to petition Mukherjee to register her objection.
Besides Rao and Parasaran, the panel before the committee included academics Mohan Gopal — known to be close to Rahul Gandhi — and Upendra Baxi, and jurists Fali S Nariman and Chandrasekhar Pillai. Swaraj is learnt to have suggested the names of jurists Harish Salve, Soli Sorabjee, K K Venugopal and former Chief Justice M N Venkatachaliah as well.
President Mukherjee can embarass the government by seeking a clarification on the nomination, and the issue looks set to escalate in case the government insists on Rao and Swaraj takes the battle to the next step in the process of setting up the Lokpal. “All options are open,” a senior BJP leader said when asked if the BJP might choose to boycott the selection committee in protest.
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley had earlier objected to the government seeking applications for the Lokpal and members. He had written to the PM saying the move as “illegal”, and rejected the reply as evasive.
BJP leaders said the government’s insistence on restricting the list to candidates chosen by it was illegal, and the ex-officio members have a right to explore names beyond those suggested by the government.
Swaraj’s dissent against appointing P J Thomas as CVC a couple of years ago had resulted in embarrassment for the government. The matter went to the Supreme Court which virtually upheld Swaraj’s dissent.
The BJP is mindful that credit might accrue to Rahul Gandhi if the clutch of anti-corruption laws and the Lokpal are easily instituted. “They indulged in corruption for five years, and have now come to talk of anti-corruption legislation,” Swaraj said in reply to a question about the Congress’s move.