FRONT PAGE | Tuesday, June 14, 2011 | 2:02:55 AM
PNS |New Delhi
A day after Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee launched a frontal attack on anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare and his team, the civil society members hit back at the ruling dispensation in the Centre. Accusing the Congress of behaving in an “autocratic” manner, they decided to brief the UPA allies and the Opposition parties about the goings-on in the meetings of the Joint Drafting Committee (JDC) for Lokpal Bill.
“The Congress is not only excluding its UPA allies in the talks for the Lokpal Bill but also the Opposition parties. It thinks as if only the ruling party is important. It shows the Congress’ concern for parliamentary democracy,” said activist Arvind Kejriwal, while talking to mediapersons on Monday.
He said the civil society members would now brief the non-Congress parties on the issue. “We will brief them as to what all is happening at the JDC meetings,” he said.
The civil society would write to the political parties with details of the deliberations that have taken so far at the joint panel meetings. They would also attach the documents circulated during the meetings.
Kejriwal, a member on the joint panel, quoted Mukherjee as saying the MPs were elected representatives of the people and they had the powers to legislate laws. “But the MPs cannot become dictators if they are elected once in five years,” he retorted.
Replying to Mukherjee’s attack on Hazare, lawyer Prashant Bhushan said it was a proof of the Minister’s skewed understanding of democracy and arrogance of power. They have also written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying an honest person like him should not be scared of being investigated by an independent Lokpal.
In turn, without naming Hazare Congress went all out against him by alleging that the Gandhian was an “unelected dictator” who was acting at the behest of “forces attempting to destablise the country”.
On Sunday, Mukherjee, who is the JDC chairman, had stated that the civil society’s agitations and fasts were undermining established institutions of democracy such as Parliament. Lawyer Prashant Bhushan and RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal, both members on the joint panel, spoke to the mediapersons on Monday to trash the charges made by the Finance Minister.
Responding to Mukherjee’s charges, the civil society members, in a statement, said, “Such statements betray a distorted understanding of democracy and an arrogance of power.
They show a mistaken understanding that the people have no role to play in governance and law making once they have elected their representatives and they have formed a Government.”
While Mukherjee had taken a dig at the fast undertaken by Hazare in April, Bhushan retorted that fasting, as Gandhi had demonstrated, was the most non-violent and civilised means of expressing oneself and exerting democratic pressure on any Government. “Unfortunately, a party which considers itself as the political legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, is reviling civil society movements and fasting as anti-democratic,” he said.
Bhushan also objected to Mukherjee rejecting the demand of civil society to televise live the proceedings of the JDC and calling it a circus. He asked whether by this logic it meant that Parliament was also a circus and the MPs were animals in that circus.
Kejriwal repeated the points made in the letter written by all five civil society members to Manmohan Singh to buttress their argument that the PM should indeed be brought under the purview of Lokpal.
He reminded the Government that Mukherjee himself as the chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Lokpal Bill in 2001 under the NDA rule had recommended that the PM should covered under the ambit of Lokpal. Later, in January this year, in the draft law prepared by his Ministry, Law Minister M Veerappa Moily suggested inclusion of the PM in Lokpal’s purview, he said.
Kejriwal went on to state that the draft law was sent to Home Ministry under P Chidambaram, which also concurred in March with this view. Even Manmohan Singh had advocated the inclusion of PM in Lokpal’s ambit, he said, adding that in the last 10 years the Government’s view has been in favour of bringing the PM under the purview of Lokpal. Incidentally, three out of five Ministers – Mukherjee, Chidambaram and Moily – are on the joint panel for Lokpal Bill.
Kejriwal asked, “Now, all the three Ministers have suddenly taken a U-turn and they appear to be adamant on keeping the PMO out of the Lokpal’s ambit. We are wondering what happened post-March, which prompted the Government to suddenly take a u-turn on the issue?”
On the other hand, stepping up its attack on Hazare and BJP-RSS, Congress charged that the greatest danger to the democracy is from the unelected dictator. “If democracy faces its biggest peril, it is from the tyranny of the unelected and tyranny of the unelectable,” party spokesman Manish Tewari told mediapersons without naming Hazare or BJP or RSS.
Apparently sending the message to Hazare and his colleagues not to take the engagement with the Government for granted, he said there can be only one veto in Indian democracy and that is in the hands of people and “not any one individual”.
Taking strong exception to Hazare’s threat to go on an indefinite hunger strike from August 16, Tewari wondered whether it was democratic to talk about such threats when one is engaged in a dialogue with the Government.
22 August 2010, 10:01 AM IST
I was a MP not very long ago. I loved those six years. Everyone called me sir, not because of my age but because I was a MP. And even though I never travelled anywhere by train during those years, I revelled in the fact that I could have gone anywhere I liked, on any train, first class with a bogey reserved for my family. Whenever I flew, there were always people around to pick up my baggage, not because I was travelling business class but because I was a MP. And yes, whenever I wrote to any Government officer to help someone in need, it was done. No, not because I was a journalist but because I was a MP.
The job had many perquisites, apart from the tax free wage of Rs 4,000. Then the wages were suddenly quadrupled to Rs 16,000, with office expenses of Rs 20,000 and a constituency allowance of Rs 20,000 thrown in. I could borrow interest free money to buy a car, get my petrol paid, make as many free phone calls as I wanted. My home came free. So did the furniture, the electricity, the water, the gardeners, the plants. There were also allowances to wash curtains and sofa covers and a rather funny allowance of Rs 1,000 per day to attend Parliament, which I always thought was a MP’s job in the first place! And, O yes, we also got Rs 1 crore a year (now enhanced to Rs 2 crore) to spend on our constituencies. More enterprising MPs enjoyed many more perquisites best left to your imagination. While I was embarrassed being vastly overpaid for the job I was doing, they kept demanding more.
Today, out of 543 MPs in Lok Sabha, 315 are crorepatis. That’s 60%. 43 out of the 54 newly elected Rajya Sabha MPs are also millionaires. Their average declared assets are over Rs 25 crore each. That’s an awfully wealthy lot of people in whose hands we have vested out destiny. The assets of your average Lok Sabha MP have grown from Rs 1.86 crore in the last house to Rs 5.33 crore. That’s 200% more. And, as we all know, not all our MPs are known to always declare all their assets. Much of these exist in a colour not recognised by our tax laws. That’s fine, I guess. Being a MP gives you certain immunities, not all of them meant to be discussed in a public forum.
If you think it pays to be in the ruling party, you are dead right: 7 out of 10 MPs from the Congress are crorepatis. The BJP have 5. MPs from some of the smaller parties like SAD, TRS and JD (Secular) are all crorepatis while the NCP, DMK, RLD, BSP, Shiv Sena, National Conference and Samajwadi Party have more crorepatis than the 60% average. Only the CPM and the Trinamool, the two Bengal based parties, don’t field crorepatis. The CPM has 1crorepati out of 16 MPs; the Trinamool has 7 out of 19. This shows in the state-wise average. West Bengal and Kerala have few crorepati MPs while Punjab and Delhi have only crorepati MPs and Haryana narrowly misses out on this distinction with one MP, poor guy, who’s not a crorepati.
Do MPs become richer in office? Sure they do. Statistics show that the average assets of 304 MPs who contested in 2004 and then re-contested last year grew 300%. And, yes, we’re only talking about declared assets here. But then, we can’t complain. We are the ones who vote for the rich. Over 33% of those with assets above Rs 5 crore won the last elections while 99.5% of those with assets below Rs 10 lakhs lost! Apart from West Bengal and the North East, every other state voted for crorepati MPs. Haryana grabbed first place with its average MP worth Rs 18 crore. Andhra is not far behind at 16.
But no, this is not enough for our MPs. It’s not enough that they are rich, infinitely richer than those who they represent, and every term makes them even richer. It’s not enough that they openly perpetuate their families in power. It’s not enough that all their vulgar indulgences and more are paid for by you and me through back breaking taxes. It’s not enough that the number of days they actually work in Parliament are barely 60 in a year. The rest of the time goes in squabbling and ranting. Now they want a 500% pay hike and perquisites quadrupled. The Government, to buy peace, has already agreed to a 300% raise but that’s not good enough for our MPs. They want more, much more.
And no, I’m not even mentioning that 150 MPs elected last year have criminal cases against them, with 73 serious, very serious cases ranging from rape to murder. Do you really think these people deserve to earn 104 times what the average Indian earns?
May 28, 2011, 01.13am IST
NEW DELHI: Opposition BJP on Friday raised the pitch for hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, and argued that the government is not bound to go by sequence while dealing with pending pleas.
“When will Afzal Guru be hanged, and how long will his mercy petition be delayed? On August 4, 2005, the Supreme Court had rejected his appeal. It has been six years since then. The review petition was rejected on May 14, 2008,” BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
On Thursday, the President had rejected the mercy petitions of Devinder Singh Bhullar, convicted in the Youth Congress office bombing here, and M N Das, who killed a person while out on parole.
Prasad maintained that the government was not bound by law to go by the order in which mercy petitions were received. “Which law authorizes the Government of India that consideration of mercy petitions would only be in sequence? Cases of serious crime are fast tracked. The Supreme Court has fast tracked the 2G case though thousands of cases are pending. Afzal Guru’s case was fast tracked,” he said.
The BJP cited that had the designs of Guru succeeded during the Parliament attack of December 13, 2001, then nearly the entire top political leadership of the country would have been wiped out.
“You cannot go inside Parliament even with a small blade. Had even one terrorist entered with an AK-47, the entire leadership of all the political parties would have been killed,” Prasad said.
He recalled the controversy a few months ago when then home minister Shivraj Patil had allegedly asked Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit to delay action on Guru’s file.
“It is a copybook politics of vote-bank politics. BJP demands that the mercy petition should be rejected at the earliest, and action be taken against Afzal Guru as confirmed by repeated decisions of the Supreme Court,” Prasad added.