New Delhi: Even as the Congress party suggested an all-party meeting on the proposed Lokpal bill, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal on Saturday said the government was 'prima facie' opposed to bringing the post of Prime Minister under the ambit of Lokpal.

Reacting to Sibal’s statement, the Bharatiya Janata Party slammed the Central government for 'lack of clarity' towards the anti-graft legislation, while the CPI said it will express its views only in Parliament.

“Within the government, we feel prima facie, the Prime Minister should not be covered (under the ambit of Lokpal),”' Sibal said while giving interview to a TV channel.

“But at the same time, we want to make sure that if he demits office, he should not be exonerated from prosecution”, Sibal added.

The Congress core committee on Saturday morning suggested that the government call an all-party meeting to seek views on the Lokpal bill.

The meeting, chaired by party chief Sonia Gandhi, felt that such a meeting would help arrive at a consensus on the ticklish issues and defuse the pressure on the government and the party, the sources added.

This was the second meeting of the powerful Congress committee in two days. Besides Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, key ministers including Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister P Chidambaram attended the meeting.

The Central Government and Civil Society activists, led by social activist Anna Hazare, are engaged in a war of words for over a month over various 'fundamental issues' concerning the proposed legislation, including bringing the Prime Minister, Judges and parliamentarians within the ambit of the Lokpal.

Sibal, who is one of the government representatives on the 10-member drafting committee, however, clarified that the government will only decide on the issue after the draft bill goes to the cabinet.

He said the five ministers on the committee were willing to be persuaded to bring the Prime Minister within the ambit of the anti-corruption legislation if the Civil Society gives a compelling argument.

The government members are Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is co-chairman of panel, Home Minister P Chidambaram, Law Minister M Veerappa Moily and Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid.

Manmohan Singh had said earlier that he was 'open' to the idea of bringing the post under the Lokpal.

Sibal said it was not the question of an individual, Manmohan Singh, but it's about an institution.

Asked about Hazare's threat to fast from Aug 16 if the Lokpal bill was not passed by then, Sibal said: “I do not want to comment. It is not for me to comment on what Haraze (ought) to do.”

“Anna Hazare is like the 'Pied Piper of Hamelin'. The tune is lilting and people were upset with corruption just as the government is. We want to deal with it. But those who follow him.. do not know what the Lokpal bill is,” Sibal added.

The 10-member drafting committee was formed after Hazare in April launched a mass movement against corruption in high places by sitting on a hunger strike at New Delhi's Jantar Mantar. The government acceded to his demand and set up the committee to draft a strong Lokpal bill.

Civil Society members on the bill drafting committee include activist Arvind Kejriwal, former Supreme Court Judge Santosh Hegde, former law minister Shanti Bhushan, who is the panel's co-chairman, and his activist-lawyer son Prashant Bhushan.

From the government's side Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is the co-chairman, Home Minister P Chidambaram, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal, Law Minister M Veerappa Moily and Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid are on the panel.

The drafting committee is due to submit its report by June 30.

Centre lacks clarity: BJP

With the government opposed to bringing the Prime Minister within the ambit of the Lokpal bill, the Bharatiya Janata Party slammed it for 'lack of clarity' towards the anti-graft legislation.

“The government's view on bringing the Prime Minister under the bill is still not clear. Kapil Sibal has one view, Home Minister Chidambaram says something else,” BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

“The point is the government has no clarity at all. Once the government gives a tentative view on the bill and an all-party meeting is called, we can have more clarity,” he added. 

CPI to take stand only in Parliament

Criticising the government for not consulting the political parties on the contentious Lokpal bill issue earlier, Communist Party of India (CPI) leader D Raja said his party will express its views only in Parliament.

Referring to the suggestion of the Congress Core Committee to call an all-party meeting on the  Lokpal bill, Raja informed: 'This is no way to consult us.'
 
He said the government should have consulted political parties 'at every earlier stage of the issue and not now - when it has been cornered'.
 
'We will express our views on the bill only in Parliament,' Raja added.

JPN/Agencies