The Congress on Thursday (1 March) said it will boycott a meeting to discuss the appointment of the anti-corruption body (Lokpal) chief, objecting to “special invitee” status in the invite sent by the government.
Congress leader in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, who was invited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the meeting with Chief Justice of India Dipak Mishra and Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, said the "special invitee" invitation offered to him was a ‘concerted effort’ to exclude the independent voice of the opposition from the selection process of the most important anti-corruption watchdog, said media reports.
"A more apt and statesman-like conduct is expected from the prime minister of the country," Kharge wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Modi, refusing the invitation.
The invite reduces a "sacred procedure to political pretense", he said and accused the government of calling the Lokpal meet only to satisfy the Supreme Court.
A fortnight ago, the Supreme Court had asked the Centre to submit details about steps taken to appoint a Lokpal, that has been hanging fire for nearly five years now. The apex court said the anti-corruption body should be set up without delay and the lack of a leader of opposition should not hold up the process.
The selection panel includes the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India, the Lok Sabha speaker and an eminent jurist. The rules also call for a leader of opposition, but the Congress, the largest opposition group, doesn't have enough numbers to make the cut. In 2014, when the BJP came to power, the Congress was reduced to just 44 seats in the Lok Sabha.
The government had told the court that the Lokpal could not be appointed as there was no leader of opposition in the selection panel and a change in law that would allow the Congress – as largest opposition group – to be a member has yet to be approved in Parliament. The government has made a concession and decided to include the largest opposition party in selection panels not just for the Lokpal but also for CBI chief, by changing the law.
The Congress has demanded that the government enact an ordinance and then make it a law when Parliament is reconvened for the remaining part of the Budget session on 5 March.
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