Political games cloud Lokpal bill’s fate (Intro Evening Lead)

December 29th, 2011 - 7:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Mamata Banerjee New Delhi, Dec 29 (IANS) The fate of the long-discussed Lokpal bill, passed in the Lok Sabha two days ago, appeared uncertain Thursday evening with the government trying desperately to win the numbers game in the Rajya Sabha where it is in a minority and the opposition and even some of its allies giving notices for as many as 173 amendments.

The battlelines were clearly drawn with the government pushing hard for its bill, providing for the anti-graft institution of an ombudsman at the centre and states, and the opposition trashing it as “constitutionally vulnerable”.

Official sources said notices have been given for 173 amendments to the bill, introduced by the government in the upper house in the morning. Apart from opposition parties, notices for amendments that would change the very nature of the legislation have been given by its ally Trinamool Congress as well as the Samajwadi Party (SP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Left and the BJP.

While the Trinamool Congress is part of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the SP and the RJD support the government from outside.

In the 243-member upper house of parliament, the Congress and its allies have only 92 members, well short of the 122 magic number. It hopes for support from smaller parties such as the BSP and SP.

As the debate continued inside the house, efforts were also on outside to resolve the logjam over the long-discussed legislation. The Congress core committee met in the evening to finalise strategy in the wake of the extraordinary number of amendments to the document that has been at the centrestage of a furious national debate.

“We admit we don’t have the numbers in the Rajya Sabha. But we are trying our best to get the bill passed. Our intentions are honest,” Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajeev Shukla said as speculation mounted that the bill would now be pushed to the budget session next February.

A key rallying point is the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress, which has six MPs in the Rajya Sabha and has sought deletion of a provision on setting up of state Lokayuktas. This has been the issue that has found resonance with most regional parties as well as the BJP.

Informed sources said Trinamool Congress members have moved amendments to the bill on provisions that it considers impinge on the federal structure of the constitution and the power of the states to enact their own legislation.

“If Trinamool Congress presses its amendments, the government will face problems,” a BJP leader told IANS.

The BJP led the charge in the morning with Arun Jaitley saying that the bill was weak but the house should not leave without “delivering a strong law”.

The government’s counter-charge was led by fellow lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi of the Congress, the main brain behind the drafting of the bill.

Stating that the bill would create “constitutional havoc”, Jaitley opposed the minority quota in the Lokpal body and keeping the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) out of its purview.

He said the provision that mandates states to create Lokayuktas on the model of the central government had “a grey area” that could lead to the central government usurping the powers of states.

Singhvi rebutted the charges and asked what he termed was the “fundamental question”: “Do you want to pass a Lokpal bill or not? If you don’t want to pass the bill, say so. Have the courage of your convictions and don’t hide behind excuses.”

He said the BJP was “creating a breeding ground for big-ticket corruption” by opposing the bill.

“On process of the CBI and investigation, let’s look at it seriously, not with the intent to ridicule. The CBI is 70-year-old organisation. Should birth of a Lokpal mean automatic destruction of every other institution? A 10-year-old CVC, a 70-year-old CBI?” Singhvi countered.

The Congress spokesperson said the BJP wanted to create “a behemoth of unimaginable proportions” in comparison to which the Prime Minister’s Office would look like a “pygmy”.

Other speakers like Satish Misra (BSP) and Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) cautioned the government against usurping the power of states and diluting the “spirit of the constitution” by imposing its idea on individual states.

With political consensus not just eluding, but parties at odds, on the final shape and powers of the Lokpal, Team Anna member Prashant Bhushan, himself a Supreme Court lawyer, despaired: “From whatever we have seen so far in Rajya Sabha, I don’t think the Lokpal bill will get passed.”

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