Congress wants credit for getting Lokpal Bill passed, but BJP helped to defeat constitutional amendment Bill to put on Team Anna

It is no longer about the Lokpal or fighting corruption. The battle in the political theatre — that is Parliament — is not even about giving the brand new institution, if at all it comes into being, a constitutional status. It is all about politics.

Political parties have only one thing on their minds: the forthcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh and other States.

Strategies are being honed in the corridors of Parliament and at meetings behind closed doors only, and only, with an eye on getting the maximum possible political advantage in the elections, and creating a more favourable impression on the ‘aam admi.'

The Congress wants to get the credit for actually getting the Lokpal Bill passed by the Lok Sabha and blame the Opposition, especially the BJP, for not voting in favour of the Lokpal Bill and, further, going back on its commitment in the Parliamentary Standing Committee that discussed the Bill to support giving it a constitutional status. Wednesday witnessed a war of words between the two parties on this.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal made it clear: even if the Congress and the United Progressive Alliance had assembled all their MPs in the Lok Sabha, just above the majority mark, the Bill to give constitutional status to the Lokpal could not have passed without the Opposition's support.

Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said the Congress should not have expected the BJP's support to help fulfil the “dream” of its general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who had first proposed giving constitutional status to the Lokpal.

The BJP said it backed out from its earlier commitment as the Bill itself was “unconstitutional” and “we said no” to it. “Had it been constitutional and had the government accepted the BJP's amendment not to make the establishment of Lokayuktas [on the lines of the Lokpal] mandatory,” the BJP would have supported the Constitution (116th Amendment) Bill.

The fact is that no ruling party in any State wants a strong Lokayukta. Maharashtra has no Lokayukta; in Gujarat, the post has been lying vacant for almost 10 years, and Chief Minister Narendra Modi has refused to accept the nominee of the Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court as the Lokayukta — he wants a veto power in the selection process. In Uttarakhand, the brand new Lokayukta Act demands the concurrence of “all members” of the Lokayukta before a complaint against the Chief Minister can be processed further. However, at the Centre, it objected to the original Bill providing for mandatory concurrence of three-fourths of the Lokpal members before taking further a complaint against the Prime Minister.

The quibbling over constitutionalism and federalism is simply to prevent strong Lokayuktas from being set up in the States. For, it can be no one's argument that what is good for the Centre is not good for Maharashtra, Gujarat or West Bengal and Punjab. For, if the Lokpal Bill does cross the line drawn by the Constitution, the courts would take a call. And the States would then be free of all obligations under the Bill.

The Congress was hoping that the three-day extended winter session would help it put on the statute book an array of anti-corruption legislation: the Lokpal Bill, the constitutional amendment to give the body constitutional status; the judicial standards and accountability Bill and the Bill to give protection to whistle-blowers.

Failing this, it wanted to send a signal that the Opposition prevented it. For, it also suits the Congress if the Opposition were to get together to get the Bills defeated in the Rajya Sabha as that would allow it to point an accusing finger at the Opposition — ‘It is they who do not want to fight corruption, we do.'

The BJP does not want the Lokpal Bill passed (it said ‘no' to it in the Lok Sabha) and it helped to defeat the move to give it constitutional status for exactly the same reason. It does not want the Congress to run away with any credit. The “bonus” that the BJP could hope to get would be a vigorous Team Anna campaign against the Congress in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere on the plea that the Congress “failed” to pass an effective Lokpal Bill.

The BJP's view is that the Lokpal Bill as passed by the Lok Sabha is defective and “weak.” But even its MPs admit that giving the Lokpal constitutional status would have strengthened it.

Then why did it vote against that move? There can be only one resounding answer: it did not want the Congress to get any political mileage from this, for this would have meant that the government's Lokpal would have been at least a notch higher than Team Anna's Lokpal in this respect.

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