Prakash Karat, CPM General Secretary
By Rana Ayyub
THE CPM is on a downward spiral. For a party and its chief being accused of conniving with the BJP to destabilise the UPA government, there are internal issues too. That of considering a merger of the CPI and CPM, of managing egos in the party, of raising the cadres’ morale and to retain its identity. And the man at the centre of it all, Prakash Karat, 63, isn’t giving up yet. In an candid chat with Rana Ayyub after meeting Anna Hazare on the Lokpal Bill issue, Karat says the Congress has double standards when it comes to fighting corruption.
Is the Left happy with the way the UPA government handled the Lokpal Bill debate?
You must understand that the UPA government had no intention of moving forward on the Lokpal Bill. They are doing it under pressure, because of the mounting agitation and the concern among the people about high-level corruption.
There is no consensus among the Oppostion parties on the Prime Minister being under the Lokpal ambit?
In the past four legislations — 1981, 1989, 1996 and 2001 — the prime minister was under the Lokpal ambit. In 2001, the Parliament standing committee that approved the legislation was chaired by none other than Pranab Mukherjee. The committee had suggested amendments in other areas but Pranab Mukherjee had never suggested that there were reservations on the prime minister coming under the Lokpal ambit. So it’s the Congress and the Manmohan Singh government that are not willing to do this. Why did Mukherjee change his stance. The present government, which is presiding over the largest number of scams, is unwilling to ensure accountability of the highest executive office. Every public servant of the Union government within the definition in the Prevention of Corruption Act, which includes the prime minister, must fall within the purview of the Lokpal Bill. And at the same time, there should be sufficient safeguards.
What kind of safeguards?
That’s something that should be discussed. We are of the opinion that even though the prime minister has to be brought under the Lokpal ambit, there should be safeguards to ensure that there is a valid reason and ground for him to be brought under scrutiny. Same goes for the judiciary. It needs to be made more accountable and the stringent requirement of prior permission and sanction from the Chief Justice to file FIRs and investigate corruption charges has resulted in a de facto immunity to them. And we have had examples in the past one year. If a mere allegation of mala fide is enough for the Lokpal to start an inquiry into the action of judges, it may not allow judges to act without fear.
Are you then in agreement with the draft prepared by Anna Hazare and his civil society team?
Hazare has met me, he explained his viewpoint on the Bill and spoke about the draft prepared by him. I may not be in total agreement with the draft on certain aspects but at least we have to give it to Hazare for starting a public debate on the Lokpal Bill. The government has been compelled to initiate discussion because of the public outcry. Otherwise there would have been no debate.
But the draft looks impractical. How will the Lokpal monitor thousands of Central government workers and almost double the number of state government workers, leave alone PSUs. The Lokpal will be able to raise only storm signals.
Which is where the Lokayukta comes into the picture. Every state should set up a Lokayukta to cover all public servants. It will be answerable to the Lokpal.
What about Baba Ramdev and the black money issue?
Baba Ramdev is a different issue. I don’t think he has that much credibility, especially on the black money issue. But the way the government tried to stop a peaceful protest was not right. The people were on a hunger strike, that’s their constitutional right. What the government did was intolerable and undemocratic. It’s time the government initiates steps to plug loopholes and unearth black money stashed in banks abroad. Why the unwillingness to break the big business-politician-bureaucrat nexus? Are your own people involved?
Do you see any contradiction within the Congress on this. Say Pranab Mukherjee’s action and, at the same time, statements made by other leaders?
The Congress is in disarray. It is plagued with the maximum number of corruption charges. The latest that has come out now is the KG Basin scam. It’s a big issue and members of the Congress as well as the government are involved. At times, they know that the public mood is against them and they have to explain that they are doing something about it. On the other hand, they are trying to scuttle it and hence the contradictory nature of statements that are coming out in the media.