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Did Assembly election results force Congress to push for Lokpal Bill?

By Manisha Singh | Last Updated: Wednesday, December 18, 2013 - 19:50
Manisha Singh

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi addressed a press conference on December 14 at the party headquarters, a rare one if one may add. And the agenda of the presser was the Lokpal Bill. Flanked by three Union Ministers, he urged all the political parties to come together to fight corruption and pass the Lokpal Bill in the interest of the nation.

Predictably, after the intervention of the Congress VP, senior party leaders got their act together and started making all the right noises. They said that they were committed to bringing the anti-graft bill and if need be they were ready to extend the Winter Session of Parliament to pass the bill.

The need to extend Parliament’s Winter Session did not arise. The Rajya Sabha passed the bill on December 17 and the Lok Sabha gave its nod the next day. All the parties backed the bill, except the Samajwadi Party, which walked out and boycotted the House proceedings.

Thus, the historic Lokpal Bill became a reality, more than two years after a crusade was started by Anna Hazare, even though the bill that has been ultimately passed may not be the one that was envisaged by the social activist and has been called a weak one by the Aam Aadmi Party. But nonetheless, Anna hailed the bill and thanked parliamentarians for their support to the anti-graft legislation. After all, it was because of his persuasive powers, a bill that had been consigned to the cold storage, could see the light of the day.

Year 2011 was the first time that Anna went on a fast and captured the imagination of the nation by his call to eradicate corruption. The Congress, after initially underestimating the support that Anna got, was forced to bring about the Lokpal Bill and table it in the Lok Sabha, when it realized that the mood in the country was that of anger and disgust against the political class.

However, there is another side to the coin. After being tabled in the Lower House, the bill went to the Select Committee of Parliament; amendments were suggested by various political parties and so on and so forth. The crux of the matter is that the bill had been gathering dust for more than two years now, and was in pending status in the Rajya Sabha after being passed by the Lok Sabha, even as many sessions of Parliament - Winter, Monsoon etc - came and went by. Some of the sessions were washed out due to disruptions on various issues and it seemed that not just the Congress but the main Opposition, the BJP, too was not serious about passing the bill, even after more than 40 years.

The urgency was simply not there. Perhaps, Anna too realized it and once again went on a fast in his native village in Maharashtra. But this time around he was in good luck. The state Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi had just got over. And the news was bad for the Congress. The BJP decimated the grand old party in all the four states, the results for which were declared on December 08. Clearly, the mood of the people in these four states was anti-Congress.

And, one can safely say that the Congress has realized not just in four states but by and large, the sentiment all across the country is against them. In such a scenario going to the people to ask for votes in 2014 General Elections with ten years of anti-incumbency, price rise, inflation, numerous scams, policy paralysis and non-governance staring them in the face is no less than a terrible nightmare. And not to forget the growing popularity of BJP’s PM candidate for next year’s Lok Sabha polls, Narendra Modi, at least according to various opinion polls, in comparison to Manmohan Singh who is increasingly being dubbed as a silent and weak PM from many quarters.

So, were political compulsions the primary reason for the Congress VP’s intervention regarding the Lokpal Bill? The answer most likely seems to be a ‘yes’, given the fact that he had been silent on the topic after making his ‘game-changer’ speech in Parliament on April 26, 2011. And at that time he had said that a Lokpal Bill would not end corruption and had advocated constitutional status for it. That was more than two years back. Not a word from him since then. In fact, it was often asked by the Opposition as to why Rahul Gandhi was silent on the matter for such a long time. Or for that matter, one did not hear the scion of the Gandhi family talk about corruption in his election rallies, while campaigning for Assembly elections recently.

It seems Rahul and the Congress realized that to somewhat redeem themselves in the eyes of the people, they needed to be seen as someone who were serious about tackling the menace of corruption and thus, the push by the party`s vice president for the Lokpal Bill.

When asked whether the government’s push for the bill was due to the good showing by the Aam Aadmi Party in the Delhi polls and Congress` drubbing in the state elections, Rahul categorically denied the charge saying that it had to do with corruption and the argument that they were doing this because of election results was a bit unfair.

Well, it may be. But with time running against the Congress party and the next General Elections around the corner, the beleaguered party would be desperate to do whatever it takes to face the voter and that’s what it did as far as the Lokpal Bill was concerned.

A word about who should be getting the credit for the passage of the Lokpal Bill – the Congress has been saying that it was the UPA government which got the bill passed and that a large share of the credit for it should go to Rahul Gandhi.

However, Rahul is the last person who should be taking the credit for it. He has been missing in action for too long now and his latest posturing is at best a well-thought out strategy. If at all credit has to be given to someone, then it is only one person who deserves it – the diminutive man from Maharashtra, in the evening of his life, who dared to take on the establishment, who forced the political class to act and who showed the world as to what the common man is capable of achieving.

First Published: Wednesday, December 18, 2013 - 19:50

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