New Delhi/Mumbai: The chances of the Lokpal Bill winning Rajya Sabha approval suffered a jolt after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rebuffed efforts by the Congress party to strike a compromise over the legislation to create an anti-corruption ombudsman.
Compounding the government’s problems, a key ally, the Trinamool Congress (TMC), is proposing to move amendments to the version of the Bill voted on by the Lok Sabha on Tuesday. The government, however, said it’s confident of clinching approval.
The TMC has six Rajya Sabha members and its support is crucial for the passage of the Bill in the Upper House, where the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is in a minority. Thursday is the last day of the extended session of Parliament and the government needs to rally sufficient numbers to secure passage of the Bill.
Protest on hold: Social activist Anna Hazare has ended his fast. Danish Siddiqui/Reuters.
Senior Congress leaders said discussions were held with political parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP), which had earlier staged a walkout during voting in the Lok Sabha, to secure their support in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday.
The BSP, the SP and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) together have 27 members in the Rajya Sabha and provide outside support to the UPA government. Their absence resulted in the defeat of the Constitution Amendment Bill, an idea originally floated by Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, to seek constitutional status for the Lokpal.
In a House of 243, the UPA has 95 members, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has 66, and the Left parties have 19. The Biju Janata Dal (BJD), the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (AIADMK) and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) have a combined strength of 15 members. Seven members belong to small political parties, eight are nominated and six are independent members of the Upper House.
The Congress appears to have the support of 101 members at present and will require the backing of another 21 members. The arithmetic is likely to change during voting, depending on the number of people present in the House. If the BSP and the SP stage a walkout, like they did in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, it will ease some pressure on the UPA. The numbers required for a simple majority in such a case may come down to 108.
Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst and psephologist, said that in spite of protests petering out, the government is keen on passing the Bill. “It wants to be looked upon as someone who has redeemed its pledge. In the Rajya Sabha, the government will bank upon support from the allies and if necessary, then abstention by the opposition,” he said.
Parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said the government was confident of generating the numbers to pass the Bill in the Rajya Sabha.
BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu told reporters outside Parliament House that the government does not have the numbers.
“They (Congress) will not be able to muster a majority in the House,” he said, adding, “They did not have adequate numbers. And that is why they became the laughing stock before the nation yesterday (Tuesday).”
Earlier in the day, finance minister and leader of the Lok Sabha Pranab Mukherjee met Arun Jaitley, a BJP parliamentarian and leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, to seek his support for the Bill. Jaitley declined to offer any guarantees.
The government, in order to seek more time, did not introduce the Bill in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday. Bansal instead asked the House to take up the whistle-blowers’ Bill so the Rajya Sabha can have a scheduled 8-hour discussion on the Lokpal Bill on Thursday.
But the opposition did not agree and insisted the Lokpal Bill be taken up first. “We have been waiting for the Lokpal Bill since 2pm, but till now there is no supplementary agenda,” senior BJP leader S.S. Ahluwalia said.
Amid heated arguments between Bansal and the opposition, deputy chairman K. Rahman Khan adjourned the House. Earlier in the day, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi blamed the BJP for the defeat of the Constitution Amendment Bill.
“The Congress wanted to give a strong Lokpal... We sat till midnight... We wanted to fight corruption... The BJP leaders talked much about corruption outside Parliament, but when it came to passage of the Bill, they voted against it,” Rahul Gandhi said at a public meeting at Sisaya in Dharaura constituency in Uttar Pradesh. He alleged that it was done on the directives of senior BJP leaders.
During the vote on Tuesday, 16 members of Parliament (MPs) of the UPA were absent. Of them, six Congress MPs were from Gujarat, including Union minister Dinsha Patel, who was at home in connection with the marriage of his granddaughter.
Meanwhile, social activist Anna Hazare ended his three-day fast at Mumbai’s MMRDA grounds and a protest in New Delhi Ramlila Maidan, on the second day. He, however, declared that he will campaign against political parties that opposed the Jan Lokpal in five poll-bound states.
“Our fight is for justice for the common man. We have to fight a long battle..it is just the beginning,” he said, asking people to not to vote for parties that opposed the Jan Lokpal Bill. “Do not vote for such traitors. We will campaign in five poll-bound states and awaken people. We will ask them not to vote for them. After two years (election for the Union government is due in 2014), we will hold a national campaign against political parties...our fight will continue.”
An ailing Hazare appealed for a non-violent revolution and announced a fresh protest at Delhi’s Ramlila grounds from 30 December to 2 January. However, he dropped his plan for a nationwide “jail bharo” (fill the jails) campaign for the time being. Less than 1,000 people turned up in support on the second day of his protest in Mumbai.
Responding to Hazare’s comments, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said, “We are not in the business of dealing with individuals. We have shown our credentials to the nation by passing the Lokpal Bill in Lok Sabha. Now let the nation decide.”
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