M A I N   N E W S

Anna firm on August 15 deadline
l Warns of mass protests l
Complains to Sonia about ‘smear campaign’
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, April 18
Even before the joint drafting committee on the Lokpal Bill got down to discussing the nitty-gritty of the proposed legislation, the process has been hit by controversies with social activist Anna Hazare today warning of “serious consequences” in case of any delay in the enactment of a strong anti-corruption law.

He refuted media reports that he was flexible on the August 15 deadline set by him for the enactment of the Lokpal Bill. He also rejected the view that he would accept Parliament’s disapproval of the Bill.

“Failure of this deadline will invite mass protests by the people,” he warned, adding that political parties who vote against this Bill will hurt their own popularity.

With the Shanti Bhushan CD controversy threatening to overshadow the debate on corruption, an upset Anna Hazare today shot off a strong letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi to complain about the “smear campaign” launched against civil society representatives on the drafting committee through false accusations which, he said, was aimed at derailing the process of framing an effective anti-corruption Bill. He was particularly critical of AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh and HRD minister (without naming them) and wondered at the outcome if government nominees on the committee were also subjected to a similar witch hunt.

In his two-page letter to Sonia Gandhi, Anna lodged a protest against an AICC general secretary, (referring to Digvijay Singh) who has made critical remarks about his campaign, many of which, he said, were "factually wrong". While suggesting that his intention was to mislead the people and derail the the ongoing discussions in the joint committee, the anti-corruption crusader wanted to know if Sonia Gandhi approved of such remarks.

Congress sources maintained that Sonia Gandhi is also upset with Digvijay Singh’s statements which are only adding to the government’s troubles. Officially,however, the party defended the senior leader, saying every person has a right to voice his or her opinion in a democracy.

Anna Hazare also accused a minister (Kapil Sibal), one of the five government nominees on the joint drafting committee, of misleading the media after the panel's first meeting by making false statements that the civil societyrepresentatives had "succumbed" to government's pressure and "diluted" the law.

"It appears that his debriefing was meant to send a message to the public that we had been influenced," the letter added.

However, Sibal's office issued a release denying the charge that he had held any media briefing at his residence on Saturday after the first meeting of the joint drafting committee on Lokpal nor made any statement that the civil society members "have succumbed to government pressure".

While describing these reports as "patently false and a tissue of lies", the statement said the facts should be first verified "because all this does is vitiate the atmosphere".

Suggesting that Anna Hazare had been misled on this issue, Sibal said, "I don't believe this has been done by the senior civil society member, those who are persuading him to do this must be a little more careful and circumspect before egging him on."

Although Sibal was quick to go into damage control mode, Congress sources said Sonia Gandhi is unhappy that Anna Hazare had chosen to release his letter to the press even before it had reached her.





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