New Delhi: Even as a resolute Anna Hazare began his three-day fast in Mumbai on Tuesday, the debate in Parliament on the Lokpal Bill turned out to be a round of verbal one-upmanship between the government and opposition.
The tone for the debate was set by Minister of State in the PMO V Narayanasamy who moved the bill for consideration in an aggressive tone.
He asserted the supremacy of Parliament saying "we need to bow our heads to this House only and not before anyone else", apparently referring to Anna Hazare.
Narayanasamy was followed by Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj as the speaker. She tore into the government’s defence and termed the Lokpal Bill that has been introduced in the Parliament as patently unconstitutional.
Sushma Swaraj said that the bill was anything but a strong and effective law to deal with corruption in the country.
"It is patently unconstitutional (bill)… deeply flawed and tampers with the basics of our Constitution," she said.
The firebrand speaker then attacked the government point-by-point on important points of disagreement between the government and her party.
She accused the government of trying to target the federal structure of the government by making it mandatory for the states to implement the Lokayukta Bill as being proposed by the government.
Swaraj further slammed the government’s move to bring in reservation – especially minority quota – in the Lokpal Bill. She said that giving reservation based on religion is against the basic tenets of the Constitution and that the move holds the potential of acting as a trigger for the second partition of India.
This remark led to a mini ruckus in the Lok Sabha.
She demanded that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) should also be freed from the clutches of the government and brought under the control of an independent Lokpal.
Swaraj also said that the Prime Minister has been brought under the purview of the Lokpal but with "full protection so that nobody dares touch him or her".
Accepting the challenge, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal took on the Leader of Opposition and put forth a point-by-point rebuttal.
Sibal accused the BJP of indulging in doublespeak and stressed that the BJP is not serious on the issue of corruption.
Suspecting a conspiracy on the part of the main Opposition party, he said, “There seems to be a deeper conspiracy by the BJP not to allow an effective and strong Lokpal.”
Amid continued uproar, Sibal said that the concerns raised by the Opposition leader on various provisions are unfounded and have no basis.
He even asked why BJP wanted the Lokpal Bill to be withdrawn when the Parliament agreed in principal in a Sense of the House to introduce the Citizen’s Charter, inclusion of lower bureaucracy and appointment of Lokayukta on August 27.
Sibal asked Swaraj how she could state that Lokayuktas will not be appointed as per the provisions of the Bill when this had been agreed to in the "sense of the House" agreement.
He said whether the Lokayukta provision should be brought in under Article 252 or 253 should be decided by the courts.
Sibal said corruption was more prevalent in states and cited Karnataka as an example. This made BJP members from the southern state to rise on the feet and shout against him.
He said nobody was stopping BJP from appointing Lokayuktas in states where it is in power. He maintained that the institution of Lokayukta in these states was weak as the person is appointed by the Chief Minister.
"For the past nine years, the Gujarat government has not appointed Lokayukta... Why have you not appointed Lokayukta in Gujarat," Sibal said, charging that the opposition wants to "embrace" corruption in states.
He alleged that BJP is playing politics over the Lokpal issue and does not want the Bill to be passed. He hit out at the Left parties saying no public functionary was brought under the ambit of Lokayukta in the CPI (M)-ruled Tripura.
Sibal alleged that the intention of the BJP is not to allow any representation of 16 crore people from the minority community and women to be represented in the Lokpal.
"This argument (of no reservation for minorities in Lokpal) is unconstitutional," he said.
Speaking in one of the rare occasions the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rejected the Opposition’s charge that the Lokpal Bill drafted by the government is weak and unconstitutional. The PM assured that the anti-graft legislation will surely weed out corruption from our society.
Speaking in Lok Sabha after witnessing a fierce debate on the Lokpal Bill Prime Minister said, “Madam Speaker, I would like to assure all my colleagues in this August House that the Lokpal Bill drafted by the government lives up to the promise made in the Sense of the House.”
“I have honest belief that the Bill presented by the government lives up to the expectations,” he said.
Opposition to the bill also came from ruling Congress allies -- the Trinamool Congress and the DMK.
The Trinamool objected to the bill on the ground that it was encroaching on the federal structure of the constitution by proposing Lokayuktas modelled on the Lokpal.
"The bill encroaches upon the federal structure of constitution. Don`t undermine the state legislatures. It would be a dangerous proposition. We are all fighting against corruption," Kalyan Banerjee of the Trinamool said.
TKS Elangovan of the DMK asked the government to leave the creation of the Lokayuktas to the states and preserve their rights.
Meanwhile senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee refuted the claims by the Opposition that the anti-graft bill had been tabled in Parliament in a hurry.
“Government has been accused of hastening the bill. But the Lokpal Bill has not been tabled in a hurry. It is not under duress, it is not under threat. We wanted to have a strong anti-corruption bill. We examined various inputs that were available to us. We have incorporated as many suggestions as we could. We wanted to convey the message that it was high time we should take action. Nothing has come out of the hat of a magician,” Leader of Lok Sabha categorically said.
With PTI inputs