Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid revealed that the Lokpal Bill will be a reality long before the Parliament elections in 2014. While speaking to Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate, Khurshid said that the moment the Select Committee report comes, will then the government will be be able to say now the final, the last mile is to be reached.
Below is the full transcript of the interview:
Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate. How does the government view Anna Hazare and Team Anna? That's the core subject I shall discuss today with Law Minister Salman Khurshid.
Mr Khurshid, let's start with Anna Hazare's fast. Do you believe the fact that it was called off before any of Anna Hazare's or Team Anna's multiple demands have been met is a victory for the government?
Salman Khurshid: Well, I think it's a welcome development. I don't put it into victories and defeats. This is democracy and you know in democracy you have a range of ways of expressing yourself, they opted for that expression - we didn't agree with it and we are happy that it has come to an end.
Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this. Do you believe your strategy of neither talking to nor talking about Team Anna and Anna Hazare paid off?
Salman Khurshid: The very fact that you are asking me this question suggests that you agree with our strategy or you approve of it even if you don't agree and that's a good thing.
Karan Thapar: And your answer suggests that you are actually trying to say yes but not be boastful.
Salman Khurshid: No. I don't think this requires a boast. I don't think that everything they said is to be rejected or repudiated and I can't accept that everything they wanted is for the good of the country.
Karan Thapar: If the fast had continued leading one or more persons falling dangerously ill, did the government have plans to forcibly take them to hospitals?
Salman Khurshid: I have no idea but there are standard operating procedures and we said this to the press that the standard operating procedures have to be taken by people who are on the hot seat at that time. They may be some references made to political authority at appropriate stage or appropriate time but we didn't discuss this in great detail. But I am sure people who had to do it would have done it.
Karan Thapar: The impression people have is that this time around the government had made up its mind to let the fast continue to whatever conclusion it came to and it would not intervene.
Salman Khurshid: Well, I don't think we should go by what impression people have. We did our duty in the past and we did our duty now. If you think our duty worked well this time, well it is good for us and good for everybody.
Karan Thapar: Well, it is absolutely true to use your phrase that your duty worked well this time. There is no doubt that you successfully handled Team Anna on this occasion and you have been praised for it. But would you equally accept that on earlier occasions the government mishandled Team Anna?
Salman Khurshid: No, I don't accept that because in retrospect and hindsight you can say something about anything that you have done. The decision has to be taken then and there and I think margins of error have to be built into any decision.
Karan Thapar: But wisdom also does also require that in the hindsight you acknowledge that a decision taken then and there may have actually been the wrong one. Let me give you an example. To begin with there were the prolong negotiations between April and July 2011 where special importance was given to Team Anna, which offended other civil society groups and the Opposition. The result was that Team Anna shot in to the limelight and ended up accusing the government of betrayal. Now, with the wisdom of hindsight, you will accept, that perhaps you were mistaken in giving Team Anna that importance?
Salman Khurshid: I don't think it is important for me to be talking about this but I am sure that people who take these decisions from day to day, from time to time, will build in this analysis about the past in to what they would do in future. And I think it is important that these things are analaysed by those who are hands-on involved rather than by people who have no direct involvement.
Karan Thapar: It's very interesting your answer suggests that people build in the experience of the past when they decide what they are going to do now. That does suggest that there was a certain recognition that may be the importance given to Team Anna earlier was mistaken.
Salman Khurshid: Well, you can talk about that but I don't want to sound condescending and I don't want to sound mean and narrow minded that yes we shouldn't have given them importance, we should have given somebody else importance. But let me tell you even at that time the intention was to get on board all the major civil society groups that had worked very hard on the concept of Lokpal and we did take them onboard as far as their documents were concerned. But we couldn't have as extensive a consultation across the country as we wanted.
Karan Thapar: But the truth is that you in fact made Team Anna look special. You had direct negotiations with them which went on for a period of two and two-and-a-half months and other groups only felt left out. But Team Anna shot in to the limelight and became adversaries for you. And I am not asking you to be condescending, I am simply asking you to look back now with the wisdom of hindsight and accept that perhaps it was mistaken. Your intentions were right but it was mistaken to give Team Anna that importance.
Salman Khurshid: As long as our intentions were right we are now looking forward, we don't want to look back. I am sure, as I said, people who are hands on and involved would certainly take into account everything that has happened including all the way up to yesterday.
Karan Thapar: There was even one instance when perhaps your intentions may not have been right. I am talking about August 2011, the morning Anna Hazare was going to start his second fast. Your government arrested him and jailed him and made me a martyr and a hero and in the end this perhaps was the single reason why tens and thousands turned up at the Ramlila agitation. Now, once again with the wisdom of the hindsight, should that had not been better handled?
Salman Khurshid: I have no idea as I said when you are in the hot seat and you take a decision it's all very well for somebody who is not there to be saying something else. I think my colleagues who are directly involved would have had to take a very very tough call at that time. And how that call finally turns out is something we have to live with.
Karan Thapar: But you can't accept that the call taken in August 2011 to arrest Anna turned out to be the wrong call?
Salman Khurshid: I don't think it is necessary for me to take another call on that. As I said whatever we did must have been factored into whatever we do now and we do in future.
Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this. There is no doubt that the government handled Team Anna this time around very adroitly and you have got praise for it but people will be surprised that someone like Salman Khurshid, who is normally a very open minister, is unable to bring himself even with delicate words to accept that yes with hindsight we could have handled Team Anna better last year This is a simple admission to make because now you making it having succeeded.
Salman Khurshid: Well, as I said this is not success and victory. This is only another milestone in a long journey.
Karan Thapar: But the government looks better this time around than it did earlier. Now that you look better can't you accept that earlier perhaps you should have handled things differently?
Salman Khurshid: The moment you say we look better, it means you have already decided that it's better than before and if it is better than before - thank you very much.
Karan Thapar: But would you accept also that you could have done things differently and even the earlier occasion could have been better. Can you not accept?
Salman Khurshid: If you had a Lokpal 40 years ago then we would have not argued about a Lokpal now. So, ifs and buts can take you anywhere.
Karan Thapar: I hit against a stone wall of a minister who is hinting repeatedly that perhaps things could have been better but he won't say it upfront and people will wonder why Salman Khurshid, who is normally so open and so receptive to criticism and to accepting mistakes, on this occasion seems to be reluctant to do so.
Salman Khurshid: I am saying if you want to criticise us, please criticise us. Anna Hazare's team have criticised us and you can do as well. But I would hear your criticism, I don't need to respond and react to your criticism.
Karan Thapar: What I am really asking is did the government learn critically important lessons from its earlier handling of Team Anna?
Salman Khurshid: We learn everyday from everything we do and I think learning is a good thing because at the end of your learning lesson, you are a better person.
Karan Thapar: Are you as a result a wiser government when it comes to handling such situations today than you were say six months or eight months ago.
Salman Khurshid: Oh, absolutely. I hope they have also learned some lessons.
Karan Thapar: No, answer for yourself. Have you learnt? Are you wiser?
Salman Khurshid: We are much better equipped today.
Karan Thapar: You are better equipped today. All right, let's widen the subject. Today after Anna Hazare and Team Anna appear in the public eye to have suffered, where does the Prime Minister's commitment on the Lokpal given to Anna Hazare stand?
Salman Khurshid: This is interesting. There are two separate things here. One is not just the Prime Minister's commitment but what Anna Hazare had actually asked for. The Prime Minister responded and on the Prime Minister's response the entire Parliament passed a Sense of House Resolution. There were three things. I have been pained to say this again and again. There were three things we promised in the Prime Minister's letter. We have already done. Of course it has only been passed by one House and the other House is still to pass it but there are many other dimensions that are being added.
Karan Thapar: You are hinting there at the conversations you had in secret on July 23 with Anna Hazare, I'll come to that a little later. Let me pick up first on the question of when will the Lokpal become a reality? Because many people have the belief and perception that after the extended Winter Session of Parliament, the government is going to go liberally slowly. Some even field that you have no intention of creating a Lokpal, you are simply going through the motions to deceive people.
Salman Khurshid: See, I personally think but this is now a matter of the past. I personally think that everything that is sought in a Lokpal can be done by minor strengthening of existing institutions but now this argument has been overtaken by a commitment that we have made for a new institution of the Lokpal. Now, we are waiting for the Select Committee report to come back. Select Committee had a mandate to report on a first day of the last week of this session so that we might be able to push it through within that session, if not then in the subsequent session. Now, we are still waiting for the Select Committee report. We can't dictate to the Select Committee.
Karan Thapar: Let me tell you why this is becoming a matter of some concern because it was on August 17, 2011, almost exactly a year ago, that the Prime Minister gave a commitment to Parliament that the Lokpal Bill would be passed as early as possible. Those were his exact words.
Salman Khurshid: That remains.
Karan Thapar: And people ask do you have a deadline or a date by when it would happen?
Salman Khurshid: No, but as early as possible remains. Once we get the Select Committee report there is nothing in parliamentary procedure..
Karan Thapar: Can you not hasten the Select Committee to give the report on time?
Salman Khurshid: No, you can't.
Karan Thapar: It is headed by Satyavrat Chaturvedi, he is a member of your party. You can have a word with him.
Salman Khurshid: No, you can't. You can't dictate terms.
Karan Thapar: Don't dictate but you can encourage.
Salman Khurshid: I am sure that he is being encouraged both privately and publicly. But he also has to get all his members on board. The moment his report comes, we will then be able to say now the final, the last mile is to be reached.
Karan Thapar: Let me ask you this. Can you give an assurance to the people of India that Parliament will create a Lokpal before the elections of 2014?
Salman Khurshid: See, it is not for me to give this assurance because my Prime Minister must do so. But if you are asking me about my own assessment and my own impression and my own feeling, I think yes. We can say yes, absolutely. In fact to say it will be long before the Parliament elections 2014 but I can't give you a date and I can't give you a deadline.
Karan Thapar: But you are giving me your personal assessment that it will not only happen before 2014 but Parliament will create a Lokpal possibly long before 2014.
Salman Khurshid: Yes.
Karan Thapar: Salman Khurshid, let's talk about your secret meeting with Anna Hazare on June 23. How did this happen? How was it set up and where it is happen?
Salman Khurshid: It was not a secret meeting, it was a private meeting.
Karan Thapar: And how was it set up?
Salman Khurshid: Friends. His friends, mutual friends who said you speak the same language as he does, why don't you meet? I said I am always willing to meet anyone. So we met at a friend's house.
Karan Thapar: Where was this friend's house? In Delhi or outside Delhi.
Salman Khurshid: Outside Delhi, near Pune.
Karan Thapar: And you travelled there?
Salman Khurshid: And he travelled there.
Karan Thapar: So, both of you agreed to travel to a common friend's house for the meeting?
Salman Khurshid: Yes.
Karan Thapar: How long did the meeting last?
Salman Khurshid: Two hours.
Karan Thapar: And were you there a night in advance?
Salman Khurshid: Yes.
Karan Thapar: Was Anna there a night in advance?
Salman Khurshid: He came next morning, had breakfast with us. And after breakfast, we sat and had a meeting.
Karan Thapar: And it lasted for two hours?
Salman Khurshid: Yes, near about.
Karan Thapar: What did you and Anna Hazare discuss during those two hours?
Salman Khurshid: Lots of things but if you are interested in the Lokpal issue, then that was pretty straight forward. I asked what he was looking for. He said three things that we said to you and you said in the Sense of the House resolution. Those three things are - there should be a Lokpal and Lokayukta as well so that the states also get covered; All civil servants must get covered (Group A, B, C and D). Initially we wanted only Group A and B because we thought Lokpal will become unwieldy with larger number of employees and three, there should be Citizen's Charter and Grievances and Redressal. I said to him we have already done this and I explained to him how.
Karan Thapar: And what did he say?
Salman Khurshid: He said if that's the case just write to us and say so.
Karan Thapar: So, he asked for a letter which would give the assurance that you have agreed to everything he wants on those three points.
Salman Khurshid: No. Not agreed but have done.
Karan Thapar: Okay. He asked for a letter where you would confirm that you have done what he wants on those three points.
Salman Khurshid: Yes.
Karan Thapar: You agreed to him this letter?
Salman Khurshid: Yes.
Karan Thapar: And I believe before the final letter was sent, you sent him a draft of the letter.
Salman Khurshid: Yes.
Karan Thapar: He made a few minor changes. Is this correct?
Salman Khurshid: Yes. You, see I sent to the same contact, same common friend. I got back from the same common friend. Now, I assume that the same common friend discussed it with him because he said we translated it into Marathi and then sent back that these are the changes that are important. They were cosmetic changes, we had no problem - so we made the changes.
Karan Thapar: So by the time you got to the final letter, you had a clear belief and understanding that Anna approved of the content and will be happy?
Salman Khurshid: Absolutely. And I have not heard to this day, that Anna was unhappy with the contents of the letter.
Karan Thapar: Now let's go back to the meeting. Is there also the case that at that meeting on June 23, Anna gave you an assurance that when he received the final letter, he would hold a press conference and publicly say that he was in agreement with the contents of the letter?
Salman Khurshid: No, no. He gave no assurance of any kind. He did not promise me anything. I did not promise him anything. I only said that we have done what we have done. He said just put it in a letter. I don't know if these are assurances or just a common conversation. He never promised me would not fast. He informed me, even before we talked about the letter, that he would not go on the fast. He informed me.
Karan Thapar: Let me clarify this because it is important. He informed you at the meeting that he wouldn't go on the fast?
Salman Khurshid: That was his decision not to go on fast on July 25 or the August 9 and that he would not travel across the country. He just informed me. And I just accepted.
Karan Thapar: This is something that he is since gone back on.
Salman Khurshid: I don't know. I mean, apparently he has. But..
Karan Thapar: Let me come back to this earlier question I asked you about what Anna said or did not say would happen when he received the final letter. According to what you told Tehelka magazine, you apparently said that Anna said that when he received the final letter, he would hold a press conference, and publicly say that he was in agreement with the way the government had handled the Lokpal.
Salman Khurshid: Yes, yes.
Karan Thapar: So that bit is true?
Salman Khurshid: That bit is true. Of course.
Karan Thapar: So he did say when he gets the final letter, he would hold a press conference.
Salman Khurshid:Yes, yes.
Karan Thapar: And endorse the way the government has handled the Lokpal.
Salman Khurshid: Yes. Yes, because there was no disagreement. So why would you not endorse it? Even today. Even today there is no disagreement as far as Anna is concerned.
Karan Thapar: Let's stick to the details of your meeting. What we established and I am asking you to confirm, is that you discussed with Anna, how the government had handled the three important things he wanted covered by the Sense of the House resolution?
Salman Khurshid:How we had done it.
Karan Thapar: He was happy?
Salman Khurshid: Yes.
Karan Thapar: He asked you to put that into a letter?
Karan Thapar: A draft of that letter was sent to Anna for his approval? You made a few minor cosmetic changes?
Salman Khurshid: Yes.
Karan Thapar: Then the final letter went to Anna?
Salman Khurshid: Yes.
Karan Thapar: Secondly, Anna had also told you at that meeting that when he receives the final letter, he will hold a press conference and publicly say that he is in agreement with the way the government has handled the Lokpal issue.
Salman Khurshid: Yes.
Karan Thapar: All of that is correct?
Salman Khurshid: Yes.
Karan Thapar: What did you and Anna discuss at that meeting about whether the meeting should be made public or kept secret?
Salman Khurshid: Well, I just asked him - people will ask me have I met you and what do I say? And he said well just keep it secret. And I don't know the actual manner in which the sentences were exchanged, the bottom line was - he said in the interest of the country, you can speak an untruth.
Karan Thapar: And he was happy, therefore, to tell a white lie as they call it, in the interest of the country?
Salman Khurshid: Yes. And then he was upset that I did not disclose the meeting.
Karan Thapar: Now when that final letter was sent, it wasn't just sent to Anna Hazare. It was also sent to Team Anna. Was that a mistake?
Salman Khurshid: I don't know. Because I am not involved in the dark arrangements. The letter was sent to their official address. Their official address, assuming, is not his home address. It must be his office address or the office address of India Against Corruption. Therefore, I think, they should in their decency should have forwarded that letter to Anna Hazare. Instead, they opened it.
Karan Thapar: So, Team Anna became aware of the contents of that letter, when Anna did not want any other person than himself to know.
Salman Khurshid: I assume that's what has happened.
Karan Thapar: This is why he thinks the government was trying to create divisions between himself and the team?
Salman Khurshid: I assume that's what it is.
Karan Thapar: So, an unfortunate slip as you would called it in your Tehelka article or an unforeseen accident led to the disruption between you and Anna? Till then everything was going swimmingly?
Salman Khurshid: Yes, I thought so. But I have not been able to understand why something that was desired simply by that being discovered by someone else, becomes undesirable?
Karan Thapar: Except for the fact that it is possible that Anna did not want his team to know?
Salman Khurshid: How long?
Karan Thapar: At that stage.
Salman Khurshid: But how long would he not have wanted his team to know? I did not know he did not want his team to know. After all..
Karan Thapar: He never said this to you..
Salman Khurshid: No no. He said I.. His team wasn't going to ask me. I was talking about what happens if I am asked outside if I met you. Right? I never.. I did not say will you tell your team? He did not ask me whether I would tell my side. I am sure he assumed that I would tell my side. Otherwise how would he get the..
Karan Thapar: And similarly you assumed that he would tell his side?
Salman Khurshid: I have to. Because they are friends..
Karan Thapar: So at the end of the day, the contact and the relationship established between the two of you and the understanding that emerged, fell apart on one small simple thing? That Team Anna became aware of the contents of the letter at a stage when perhaps Anna Hazare did not want them to know?
Salman Khurshid: Yes. It seems so.
Karan Thapar: On something as small, some would say, as ridiculous as that. The whole thing collapsed?
Salman Khurshid: There you are. And should there be bitterness about this? If I were in his place, I would have said - we tried something. Unfortunately, something intervened and it could not happen.
Karan Thapar: Faith doesn't matter.
Salman Khurshid: Fate overtook us or lack of faith.
Karan Thapar: Salman Khurshid, a pleasure talking to you.
Salman Khurshid: Thank you very much.