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Indian Parliament proved Anna right

Last updated on: December 30, 2011 12:16 IST
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Indian Parliament proved Anna right

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi

The Congress Party deserves no pity because it got caught in its own web of deceit. They created a product they did not want and ensured nobody bought it. Sheela Bhatt reports.

The Indian Parliament has failed to give Indians the Lokpal Bill in the year 2011.

Most members of the Parliament are happy, relieved and less insecure now that they know there would be no Lokpal in the near future. However, the event as it unfolded has made the Congress party look weak, embarrassed and politically bruised.

Failure to pass the Constitution Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha proved that the Congress does not have a two-third majority in the Lok Sabha. Also, its best-known secret was highlighted that the party does not have a simple majority in the Rajya Sabha. The unity of the United Progressive Alliance is broken and the fight against corruption has received a fatal blow.

It wasn't an anti-climax really. It was a designer event with a few unexpected elements in the last one hour. The chief designer was the Congress, which was given moral support from almost the entire political class. But in the end, the Congress party got caught in the web it had woven, with some help from other political parties, to trap Team Anna.

The fear of Anna Hazare has gone and so has the bill into an uncertain time zone.

The Congress party did not allow voting in the Rajya Sabha over the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 2011, saying "Our bill or nothing else." When they saw that the Rajya Sabha was not ready to pass their version of the bill, they were forced to change their strategy. Everyone knew they had no majority to pass the bill in the Rajya Sabha, but they would have liked a united UPA voting for the bill that came from the Lok Sabha.

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'Cong exposed in its inability to handle ally Trinamool Congress'

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In the 243-member house, the Congress and its allies have only 92 members. This is much less than the 122 magic number. The smaller parties like Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party didn't come forward to covertly help because of the Uttar Pradesh election and also because there were no serious efforts to muster votes once the pressure from Anna Hazare had gone. Congress was just not ready to take back to the Lok Sabha "the Opposition parties bill" that would have so many clauses with which they disagree.

The day after getting the Lok Sabha's approval of the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, the Congress president rushed to media to claim, "But yesterday we saw their real face (of the BJP). The strength we wanted to give to the Lokpal Bill, they did not want it and voted against it," she said at a function organised to celebrate the foundation day of the Congress.

However, in the Rajya Sabha her party ducked voting, failed in its floor management, was exposed for its incapacity to handle its important ally Trinamool Congress and also looked authoritarian in not allowing the last day of session to be extended for just a few more hours so that along with amendments voting could take place in the Rajya Sabha over a bill that could have created the post of Lokpal.

Congress has been bruised badly and is so embarrassed that it has washed away the minor gains of passing the bill in the Lok Sabha and Anna Hazare failing to attract crowds in his recent fast in Mumbai.

With brutish methods the Congress forced the Rajya Sabha to close down its business in spite of majority of members wanting business to continue and fiercely demanding that voting begin. But it does not mean that non-Congress members were upset that the Lokpal Bill could not become a law. Nobody would agree on record, but Opposition parties, including BJP, and the Trinmool Congress were more than happy to see that there was no Lokpal and they are happier to see the Congress stand discredited.

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Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee
Photographs: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters

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'Bill could not be passed because issue of corruption got sidelined'

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The Opposition played politics to ensure that they won't be branded as a spoilsport in giving the common man of India a gift in the form of Lokpal. The BJP, SP and BSP were dead against the provision of Lokyauktas which were tagged along with the Lokpal Bill.

In fact, many of their amendments would have weakened the idea of Lokpal and Lokayuktas, but the Congress's attempt to get credit in the Lok Sabha and then ducking the voting in the Rajya Sabha was so clumsy and hypocritical that it overshadowed the Opposition leader's follies.

Anybody could be justified in doubting that the Congress's approach on the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill was such that they didn't care much to see the bill become a reality.

Behind closed doors, current and former chief ministers like Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Narendra Modi and others BJP leaders bargained hard to see that the Congress could not get away by imposing the Lokayukta model of the Centre on the states.

In fact, all non-Congress parties were behaving as if they will never come to power at the Centre. They were afraid of yielding ground to the Centre. The Lokpal Bill could not be passed because the issue of corruption got sidelined and the issue of freedom of states and federal structure of India became the bone of contention between the Congress and the non-congress parties. It is anybody's guess if it was done with the intention to scuttle the Lokpal Bill or not.

In the Rajya Sabha the Opposition ensured that their coordination in moving the amendments to the UPA sponsored bill would put the Congress in a fix. BJP, Trinamool Congress, Left parties, SP, BSP, Biju Janata Dal all stood firm to expose the Congress's attempt to take credit.

Before the Congress could understand the complexity of the moment, it was pushed to the wall. Around 11.15 pm, Congress was not allowed to escape from putting the bill (which they were so proud about since the last 24 hours) to vote. Non-Congress parties like the Left, SP and BSP were keeping watch along with the BJP to ensure that Congress sponsored MPs of friendly parties like RJD don't create a ruckus to give an excuse to the Chairman of the House, Hamid Ansari, to end the session.

No excuse was given, but still, Hamid Ansari did not pay heed to the demands of the Opposition parties. That was the sorry moment.

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Image: Supporters of Anna Hazare protest in an anti-corruption rally


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'We didn't want Trinamool Congress to vote against the govt'

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Just two minutes before midnight Ansari, said, "An unprecedented situation has arisen. There appears to be a desire to outshout each other. There is total impasse. The House cannot be conducted in this noise. It requires orderly proceedings. I am afraid I can't do anything better, we go home. House is adjourned." These words spoken "most reluctantly" that ended the Lokpal debate abruptly in the Rajya Sabha will haunt Vice President Ansari for the rest of his life.

His decision to down the curtains and the absence of any ruling regarding extending the time of the session helped the Congress party to save itself from the situation that would have been worse than the charge of ducking the vote. The ruling coalition, which has less than 100 members in the 243-member House lost all hope when BSP (18), SP (6) and RJD (4) made it clear that they will vote against the government bill.

SP's Mohan Singh told rediff.com after the Rajya Sabha event was over that, "We made the difference and the Trinamool Congress became the catalyst." Satish Chandra, BSP leader in the Rajya Sabha was excited to defeat the Congress. He said, "The unconstitutional bill of Lokpal got defeated and along with it the Congress has been defeated."

Veerappa Moily told rediff.com, "This is not the end. The debate is inconclusive. We could not have extended the debate or could not have arranged voting. You need the President's help to convene the Parliament." Then he added, "Why did Opposition leaders not ask for voting earlier? Why did they keep quiet?"  

Between 11.15 and 11.50 pm, Congress was put under tremendous pressure to declare the time for voting over the bill that has been passed in the Lok Sabha.

Congress had no majority, but the biggest shame they faced was Trinmool Congress MP Derek O'Brien shouting "murder of democracy must not be allowed".

Those who saw the drama on television are unlikely to ask details about how Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal, made impossible demands to make changes in the Lokpal Bill before extending support to vote along with the UPA. The message that went across the nation through television was that the Congress wanted "our bill or the highway".

Like Anna Hazare, they were adamant that more or less the Lok Sabha's version should be passed.

Congress leaders said, "We would have agreed to put the bill to vote if the Lok Sabha's version would have been passed." Congress sources said that if Mamata Banerjee would have agreed to vote with the UPA even then the government would have agreed to some of her demands. A senior Congress leader said, "We were not afraid of defeat. We didn't want Trinamool to vote against the government." Her demands were, almost, impossible, say Congress sources.

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'Congress became ambitious and that was its nemesis'

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Mamata Banerjee told Congress leaders after the passing of the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill in the Lok Sabha that she doesn't want the Centre to pass the bill on Lokayukta at all. She wanted the states to handle the issue entirely. She refused to even have the leader of opposition in state to be part of the selection process of the Lokayukta. Mamata Banerjee went ahead and said that states would not accept the "model law" from the Centre to form the Lokyaukta. No amount of cajoling could make her change her position. 

She told Congress leaders that when she heard BJD MP Bhartruhari Mahtab's arguments during the Lok Sabha debate on how federal structure would be hit by the Congress's Lokpal, she was alerted and changed her mind. Congress realised by 4 pm that they did not have the numbers and the only way to save its pride was if voting did not take place. 

On a televised debate, the loss of majority vote inside Parliament creates spectacle and damages the government's authority to rule.

Congress Party deserves no pity because it got caught in deception and self-deception. They created a product they did not want. Many of them even hated the idea of Lokpal.

Then they ensured that nobody would buy their product to fight corruption.

When they tried to sell it to create consensus, the buyers refused it and then it created a situation where it wanted to blame the buyers for asking for specifications that would go against the sprit of fighting corruption. There was no genuine attempt to create a healthy product in time, put it before the parties and negotiate details before going public.

In the process, Congress became ambitious. That was its nemesis.

It thought of gaining political mileage by showing off that it was serious in fighting corruption. But in the Rajya Sabha, Congress was exposed. The bill that came from the Lok Sabha was almost rejected by the Rajya Sabha as more than 135 amendments came up. This shows that the Indian Parliament is a badly divided house, political differences are irreconcilable and there is no respect for the idea of having consensus for the common good of society.

As a result, no one is in a position to say if there will be a Lokpal and when. Whatever has happened in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha over the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 2011, is the failure of collective will of the Indian parliament.

Their collective wisdom is not enough for making big changes in India. It is a hands-down victory for Anna Hazare. In the month of April 2011, when he came to New Delhi he made a grave charge. He said the Indian Parliament does not reflect on people's sentiments anymore. It is not sensitive to the issue of corruption and it has lost the will to ensure that the common man of India get justice through the systems created by Parliament. Anna keeps saying that people's Parliament is much bigger and more powerful than the Parliament of elected representatives. Anna was dubbed as the person who was "anti-parliament", he was considered as the activist who wants to undermine the Parliament.

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'Political parties played a dirty game over Lokpal'

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Today the Indian Parliament has proved Anna right.

The issue of corruption took a backseat. It got no urgency. The collective wisdom of the Indian Parliament worked against the interest of people.

Anna or no Anna, 787 members from both Houses of the Parliament could not put their brain and sincere efforts together to prove Anna Hazare wrong. The demand for a strong Lokpal was made in April 2011. It reached its peak in August 2011. But as the year draws to a close Parliament has brought shame by showing its dysfunctional side. The large part of blame no doubt has to be borne by the Congress party, but there is no doubt that the disinterest of all parties in having a Lokpal was apparent.

Although all political parties swore that they want a strong Lokpal and they were serious in creating a mechanism that could reduce corruption, all of them, without exception, only paid lip service. They never wanted a Lokpal and people of India will not have a Lokpal Bill in the near future. Privately, Lokpal was a dirty word for them and they played a dirty game over it.

The Indian Parliament totally failed to draft a cohesive bill after arriving at a consensus on major issues.

BJP's Arun Jaitley said the Lokpal episode and the discussion in the Rajya Sabha was "choreographed". He said, "It was a single biggest fraud played on the Parliament by a government," adding, "The government did not have a right to continue in office even for a single minute."

Now, Anna Hazare would say everything was "choreographed".

It can be easily predicted that he will twist Jaitley's statement and say, "It was a single biggest fraud played on the Indian people by the Parliament."


Image: A rally in support of the Lokpal Bill


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