New Delhi: Two days
after the Lok Sabha passed it, the much-awaited Lokpal bill
appeared to have hit a political roadblock in the Rajya Sabha
Thursday as MPs furiously debated its pros and cons.
As the day-long debate entered the night with the government and
the opposition taking contrasting stands on key provisions of the
bill aimed at combating corruption, the ruling party was hit by a
Already outnumbered by the opposition benches in the upper house,
the Congress seemed to have lost the vital support of ally
Trinamool Congress over the bill's provisions related to the
powers wielded by states.
Fearing loss of federal autonomy under the bill, the Trinamool has
moved about 40 amendments for a complete separation of the
Lokayuktas, the state ombudsman, from the Lokpal bill.
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajeev Shukla admitted
to the hiccups.
"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," he said midway through the animated discussion that at
times turned stormy.
Added a minister: "We are short of numbers in the Rajya Sabha."
Speculation mounted that the bill could be pushed to the next
session of parliament in February, disappointing the government
which badly wanted to enact the legislation in this session.
In a house of 243 members, the government needs the backing of at
least 122 to pass the bill. The Congress-led United Progressive
Alliance (UPA) has only 95 members.
As the Congress core committee took stock of the situation,
Congress sources said it was talking to MPs in a desperate bid to
build up majority support. But this appeared to be a daunting
The debate started Thursday with Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP)
Arun Jaitley launching a spirited attack on what he said was the
government's failure to bring about an effective Lokpal.
"If you are creating history, let us not create bad history. Let
us create an institution which is constitutionally possible," he
said, pointing out a litany of loopholes in the proposed law.
"You wanted to create a phoney Lokpal," he said, looking at the
Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi hit back, accusing the
BJP of dishonesty.
"If you don't want to pass the bill, say so, and have the courage
and don't hide behind excuses," he said in a speech repeatedly
interrupted by opposition MPs.
"You are using conditionality as a pretext not to pass the bill.
If you don't want to pass the bill, say so."
Bahujan Samaj Party veteran Satish Misra insisted that the Central
Bureau of Investigation (CBI) should be kept outside the purview
of the Lokpal.
Marxist Sitaram Yechury added to the criticism, saying the Lokpal
brought by the government could not overcome the country's
Official sources said notices had been given for as many as 173
amendments to the bill, almost all of them from the opposition.
A key rallying point is the Trinamool Congress, which has six
vital MPs in the Rajya Sabha and wants a provision on setting up
of state Lokayuktas deleted. This found resonance with most
regional parties and the BJP.
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."
As for Anna Hazare, who started it all with a five-day hunger
strike in Delhi in April, he returned Thursday to his
Ralegan-Siddhi village, a day after calling off a three-day fast
in Mumbai a day ahead of schedule.