‘Civil Society can’t take full credit for anti-graft fight’

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BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman tells Kunal Majumder that the party will reveal its stand on Lokpal in Parliament

Nirmala SitharamanWhy isn’t the BJP taking a position on the Lokpal Bill?
When the government decided to engage with the civil society group represented by Anna Hazare, they did not think it was necessary to invite the principal opposition party. It was important for the government to take all political parties on board. The government has not clearly stated its stand on the Lokpal Bill either. I can understand the enthusiasm and curiosity to know what is our party’s stand. In all fairness, we will state our view in Parliament.

Isn’t it hypocritical that on one hand, you support movements led by Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev and on the other, you refuse to take a clear stand on the Lokpal Bill?
No, the hypocrisy will be if we say we are supporting the fight against corruption but we don’t want a Lokpal Bill. We are not saying that. We think the Lokpal Bill will be an important instrument through which corruption can be fought. When we haven’t been invited to have any role in drafting the Bill, why is everybody thinking that we are behaving like a hypocrite? We are waiting for the right time.

Civil society has taken the lead on corruption. Isn’t it the duty of the BJP as the principal opposition party to take such initiatives?
In Parliament, we have repeatedly raised questions on each and every scam that has surfaced. We haven’t forfeited our role as principal opposition party. In fact, it was only our persistent pressure inside and outside Parliament that has helped keep the awareness high. Today, Indian citizens are subconsciously aware that corruption has become the biggest malaise in the country. People are coming out as they feel it is not only the role of the opposition to address these issues. They too have a role to play.

But the civil society’s fight was more successful than yours.
When we raise issues in Parliament, you cannot expect a big crowd sitting around us. Political parties do their activities through workers and they do it in various states and regions through public meetings, rallies and demonstrations. The civil society is doing a lot of talking, rasta rokos and other means to draw public attention to issues. It looks as if it was the civil society that raised the awareness and not the political parties. That is not true. Society played a big role and the media too played its part. Political parties also played their part. Corruption is corruption, whether taken up by the NGOs or civil society groups, media or political parties.

Does civil society have a role to play in framing legislation?
In the Constitution, there are provisions at every stage to incorporate outside opinion. It could be at a stage where a draft Bill is tabled and goes to the standing committee. In this committee, civil society is given a chance to give its inputs, whether individually or as a group. So the civil society’s role in influencing a Bill is already there. On the women’s reservation Bill, roadshows were held to draw public attention and the civil society gave its views.

The BJP leadership is seen as more engaged in resolving internal disputes, such as the latest spat over Gopinath Munde, rather than challenging the government. Why?
Show me a party that doesn’t have internal troubles. The UPA has so much to worry about. Why isn’t the media showing similar kind of enthusiasm in writing about them?

What will be your strategy for the monsoon session?
We will focus on corruption and black money and hope that the Lokpal Bill is drafted and some consensus emerges. Hopefully, the Congress will come down a bit from its arrogant position and engage with the political parties.

Kunal Majumder is a Correspondent with Tehelka. 
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