Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge on Wednesday declined the Centre’s invitation to join the selection committee meeting on Thursday to appoint an anti-corruption ombudsman. The government has “reduced a sacred procedure to political pretense”, Kharge told Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a letter.

“A more apt and statesman-like conduct is expected from the prime minister of the country,” he wrote. “The conduct of your government only seeks to diminish the spirit and objective of the appointment of a lokpal in as much as you seek to deny participation, voice and opinion of the Opposition.”

He added: “At the outset, let me state on behalf of myself, my party and the entire opposition that ‘Special Invitee Invitation’ is a concerted effort to exclude the independent voice of the Opposition altogether from the selection process of the most important anti-corruption watchdog.”

At Thursday’s meeting, the selection committee is scheduled to finalise the appointment of an “eminent jurist” to the panel as the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, mandates. The committee comprises the prime minister, the Lok Sabha Speaker, the leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the chief justice of India.

The current Lok Sabha does not have a leader of Opposition because the Congress – the principal Opposition party – does not have enough members in the House. The Lokpal Act has not been amended yet to include the leader of the single largest Opposition party in the selection committee.

The government had earlier cited this as the reason for not appointing the Lokpal panel. But the Supreme Court had ruled in April 2017 that no such amendment was needed to make the appointments, and that attempts to bring in the changes could not stop the law from being executed.

The NGO Common Cause filed a contempt plea, pointing out that the Centre has yet to appoint the panel even 10 months after the Supreme Court’s order. During a hearing in the case on February 23, the Centre told the court that it would invite Kharge to the meeting.