Winter freeze: Lokpal Bill hangs in balance

Amidst high drama on Thursday night, the Rajya Sabha was adjourned sine die by Chairman Hamid Ansari.

Zeenews Bureau

New Delhi: Amidst high drama on Thursday night during the debate on Lokpal Bill, the Rajya Sabha was adjourned sine die by Chairman Hamid Ansari and the bill was not even put to vote.

After a brief 15 minute adjournment before midnight, when the House reconvened, Parliamentary Affairs Minister PK Bansal said opposition has moved 187 amendments and government needed time to consider them. He said it was the prerogative of the government to convene the House and the Session.

Amidst noise, Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley said the government was running away from the House because it was in a "hopeless minority".

"A government which did not have the numbers in the House has consciously first choreographed a debate so that it cannot not be concluded before the 12 O` Clock," Jaitley said.

As uproar continued, 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 the Chair has no option but to reluctantly...," Ansari said and announced the playing of national song `Vande Mataram`, which is usually played at the end of a Session before adjourning sine die.

After the song was played, he said "the House stands adjourned sine die."

This is being seen to be a complete embarrassment to the ruling government who is said to be put in corner.

Shocking scenes were witnessed in the Upper House of Parliament close to midnight when RJD member Rajniti Prasad tore a copy of Lokpal Bill and threw it in the Well of Rajya Sabha. Meanwhile the RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav was in the Rajya Sabha gallery during the proceedings.

If the constitutional amendment bill fell through in the Lok Sabha, the whole Lokpal Bill fell flat on its face in the Upper House.

The test of the bill was always going to be in the Upper House as the government did not have the numbers there. In the 243-member Rajya Sabha, Congress and its allies did not have a majority with its number placed at 92. The ruling party needed the support of the MPs of the parties supporting the government from outside. At least a walk out by them could have helped the government but not a vote against.

“We have to respect the Constitutional propriety,” contended Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, when the Opposition said that they wanted the House to continue past the stipulated time of midnight.

The Opposition hit out hard at the government saying that the government did not want the Lokpal Bill to be put to vote as it would be a loss of face to them as they did not have the adequate numbers.

Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley said in the House without mincing his words, “If a government shies away from the Parliament and runs away from voting then that government does not have the right to rule.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was asked by the BJP leader to take a stand but the PM did not intervene.

“The government tried its best to delay the session,” said Sitaram Yechury of CPI(M). “This is a moral defeat for the government,” he added, saying “The bill should be brought back as soon as possible.”

Even Congress’ allies hit hard at them. “Orchestrated chaos and shameful,” said Derek O Brien, spokesperson of Trinamool Congress, one of the key allies of the UPA. “Sad, sad, sad,” he added.

The BJP leaders predictably accused the government of match-fixing.

“It is a peculiar situation when the Opposition is demanding a vote and the government is running away from it. It has no moral right to rule. It was the government’s film. It was not the Opposition’s film. The government has covered itself with mud,” said Yashwant Sinha in a scathing remark.

“The UPA government has created a fraud in front of the nation,” said Ravi Shankar Prasad.

“They can take care of amendments in the Lok Sabha but in the Rajya Sabha they need months. They tried to manage with everyone including Mamata Banerjee but when they realised they did not have numbers the choreography started. The RJD was deployed to disrupt the proceedings,” he added.

"The Congress is exposed today. We were willing to sit the whole night to pass the Lokpal Bill," senior BJP spokesperson said.

"This is the murder of democracy," said Balbir Punj, another BJP leader.

"They have to pay the price for what happened today," said Prakash Javedkar.

The Congress on the other hand put up a brave front and blamed the Opposition for the whole fiasco. “The Opposition including the BJP was not ready for voting. Time limit was also a factor. There were 187 amendments to be taken up,” said Janardhan Dwivedi, senior Congress spokesperson.

Law Minister Salman Khurshid had this to say, “The Opposition including the BJP had all the intention of sabotaging the Lokpal Bill. The Opposition put up more than 180 amendments.” “The issue was not of numbers and we did not run away,” he added.

“Who assaulted the Parliamentary democracy? This is the question to be asked,” said senior Congress leader Veerappa Moily. “The Opposition party changes the goal post every now and then,” he added.

“This was a live evidence of behind the scenes events of the past one year,” said Team Anna member Kiran Bedi in a sense of triumph.

Meanwhile, the Union Cabinet is scheduled to meet tomorrow according to sources. It is likely to consider recommending to the President proroguing the Winter Session of Parliament.

The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011, already passed by Lok Sabha, was moved for consideration by Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs V Narayanasamy amid questions over its passage in view of stiff opposition by various parties, including UPA ally Trinamool Congress.

Initiating the debate, Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley had slammed the bill saying it would lead to "constitutional havoc" as the Centre would be encouraged to "usurp" rights of
states through the provision of setting up of Lokayuktas.

Abhishek M Singhvi (Cong) rejected Jaitley`s contentions, saying said the BJP was creating fear psychosis over the issue of NGOs under the purview of the ombudsman.

Strongly batting for constitutional status to Lokpal, Singhvi attacked BJP saying it was opposing the bill only for the sake of it.

Rejecting charges of assault on federalism, the Congress MP said Parliament has the power to make laws for whole of the country or for any part.

Throughout the day, there was uncertainty over the fate of the bill after Trinamool Congress` stiff opposition to the provisions related to creation of Lokayukta by the
Lokpal Bill.

The party, which is part of the government, had moved over 20 amendments and its main speaker in the House Sukhendu S Roy demanded deletion of all the clauses related to Lokayukta in entirety from the bill.

The ruling coalition, which has less than 100 members in the 243-member House, found the going difficult when parties supporting the government from outside like BSP (18), SP (6) and RJD (4) announced their opposition to the bill and their
determination to vote against the bill.

The BJP, Left parties and regional parties like BJD, JD(U) and AIADMK had already announced their opposition and intention to vote against it.

Through the day there were conspiracy theories doing the rounds in Parliament, one of which was that there would be a deliberate disruption and chaos created to enable adjournment of the House.

There was also a theory doing the rounds that the House cannot be extended beyond tonight because the extended period of the session was ending this tonight and that President`s nod was required for further extension.

"The year is coming to a close on December 31 and a new session will begin," Parliamentary Affairs Minister Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal told the House adding that any session in the New Year has to begin with the President`s address.

Bansal said the government would require time to formulate its views if a "lacunae free" Lokpal was to be enacted.

The adjournment came when several members, particularly Left parties, created uproar, wanting to know whether the proceedings would continue after midnight as the extension of the Winter Session was till only December 29.

Minister of State for Personnel V Narayanasamy was replying to the 11-hour debate on the crucial bill when the uproar started.

As opposition members smelt a rat in government strategy, BJP Deputy Leader SS Ahluwalia and later CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury sought to know from the Chair as to when the voting will be taken up and whether the House was being extended beyond midnight.

Senior leaders from the BJP, Left and AIADMK kept on asking Chairman Hamid Ansari whether business of the House would remain in continuity at 12 when the extended time period of the Winter Session expires.

"There is a long way to go for 12 O` clock (midnight)," Ansari said at around 11:20 pm when Yechury sought to know whether the session will continue beyond midnight.

Yechury interrupted Narayanasami, who was replying to the debate on Lokpal Bill in Rajya Sabha, and said most of the MPs wanted a clear picture on the issue as the session was to end on December 29.

As members from BJP also joined the demand to seek a ruling from the Chair on the issue, Ansari parried the issue.

When Ansari said there is a long way to go for 12 O` Clock, Yechury shot back, "Narayanasami can go a long way (talking)."

Ansari did not give a clear reply and in the ensuing uproar he adjourned the proceedings for 15 minutes at around 11.30 pm.

During the adjournment period, senior ministers, including Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Pawan Bansal were huddled, apparently discussing the strategy.

When the House re-assembled 11.43 pm, Bansal said since
the government has received 187 adjournments to the Bill, it
needed time to study the same. It led to angry protests from
the BJP, Left, AIDMK, JD (U).

Earlier, two of the RJD members -- Rajneeti Prasad and Ram Kirpal Yadav, snatched papers from MoS Parliamentary Affairs V Naryanasamy in the presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The bill is now expected to come up in the Budget session.

With PTI inputs

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