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Lokpal bill now in freeze, but discourse gets hotter

Friday December 30, 2011 07:13:07 PM, IANS

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New Delhi: The Lokpal bill, which dominated public discourse for much of the year, appeared to have gone into cold storage Friday but the rhetoric got more vitriolic with calls for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's resignation and the government fighting a lone battle to proclaim its sincere intentions.

A day after the Rajya Sabha was adjourned sine die amid chaos Thursday midnight without putting to vote the bill for an anti-graft institution of an ombudsman, the battlelines were drawn. As people speculated on the political games, politicians traded charges in the surcharged atmosphere, ahead of the forthcoming elections in five states.

Members of Team Anna, headed by anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare, cried foul and blamed the government for deceiving the people but vowed to continue their fight for a Lokpal.

The earliest the bill can be considered is in February during the budget session of parliament. Confusion persisted over what form the bill, passed by the Lok Sabha Dec 27, would be brought back to the Rajya Sabha. If there are new amendments, the bill would have to go back to the Lok Sabha.

"The government was defeated in the Lok Sabha on the constitutional amendment bill and they ran away from voting in the Rajya Sabha... (It) has no right to retain power. The prime minister should tender his resignation, taking moral responsibility," said Bharatiya Janata Party president Nitin Gadkari.

"At the stroke of midnight hour when the world slept, India awoke to a fraud being played on its parliamentary democracy," added his colleague Arun Jaitley.

The government was under equal attack from its mercurial ally Trinamool Congress, which had moved 37 amendments against the inclusion of Lokayuktas in states and feared loss of their federal autonomy under it. "It is shameful, a sad day for democracy," said Trinamool's Derek O'Brien.

The embattled government, fighting allegations from all quarters, was equally vehement but kept a discreet silence over the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool -- and the BJP call for Manmohan Singh's resignation.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister P.K. Bansal, Law Minister Salman Khurshid and Minister of State for Personnel V. Narayanasamy said the bill will come up in the next session and accused the BJP of "doublespeak."

The government also fielded Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad to rebut the BJP's allegations of duplicity.

Labelling as "bogus" the BJP allegation that the government choreographed the entire debate, Narayanasamy said: "Right from the beginning, the BJP's intention was to see that the bill is not passed in parliament they want to keep it in limbo. It was a BJP-orchestrated drama."

Bansal added that there were 187 amendments - brought by various parties, including Trinamool and the BJP - to the bill and some of them were contradictory and could not be accommodated.

"My allegation is that they brought large number of amendments only to see that bill is not passed. Had we accepted all of them we would have led to a situation where parliament would have been rendered a laughing stock in the eyes of the people," he said.

Upping the ante, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the government was being blamed for the murder of democracy but "the assassins are blaming the victims".

As the government and the main opposition party battled it out, the man who tore up the copy of the bill Thursday night defended himself.

Justifying his act that stunned most fellow MPs and those watching the daylong debate on television, Rajniti Prasad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal said it was a "bad" piece of legislation and what he did what was right.

Team Anna said the onus was on the government to get it cleared.

"The onus is on the government and they should have told the parliament members that we (all) are bound by the resolution passed by the house and the only thing is that we have to work on the mechanics," Kiran Bedi said.

Clearly, the Lokpal bill is likely to be as hotly debated in the new year too.










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