With the New Year's festivities behind it, the Congress was once again in damage control mode four days after the Lokpal Bill fiasco in the Rajya Sabha, when it stood isolated in the House, with even its biggest ally, the Trinamool Congress, aligning itself with the Opposition.
The burden of the ruling party's arguments is that had it permitted a vote in the Rajya Sabha, the Opposition-sponsored amendments in all likelihood would have been carried, given the latter had a majority in the House, and its Bill would have been “mutilated,” defeated. That, Congress sources say, would have been worse: now the Bill, as passed in the Lok Sabha, has been “preserved” and it now has breathing space till the budget session to redraw its strategy and “rationalise” the record 187 amendments that had been given by Opposition parties. There is also a sense in the Congress that the vigorous opposition by its rival parties, the constant shifting of goal posts, has more to do with politics and less to do with the substance of the Bill. It, therefore, feels that if it can defer the vote in the Rajya Sabha till after the Assembly elections in five States, including Uttar Pradesh, it has a better chance of pushing through a Bill of its own design.
Publicly, the party is focussing its ire on the principal Opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which succeeded in mobilising support against the Congress' Bill in the Rajya Sabha, not just from the Left parties but from a majority of regional parties, including the Trinamool, by portraying a Central legislation, that included the office of the Lokayuktas, as “an attack on the federal structure.” Privately, the Congress is upset with the Trinamool that after it voted with it in the Lok Sabha, it chose to back the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha.
On Monday, party spokesperson Manish Tewari hit out at the BJP, saying “the last one year has been characterised by the negative politics of the BJP… on the Lokpal Bill, heavens would not have fallen if the BJP had supported the Bill which was passed in the Lok Sabha. After all, the same political parties, the same political formations which passed the Bill in the Lok Sabha are also present in the Rajya Sabha.”
But to a question on the role of the Trinamool in the Rajya Sabha, Mr. Tewari made conciliatory noises, talking about the continued need to talk to that party, allay its fears and forge a common approach.
But the fact is that the Trinamool took a position in the Rajya Sabha contrary to the one it took in the Lok Sabha on the Lokayukta issue after West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee heard a BJD member taking a strong position against it. She was also, party sources said, “advised” that to fall in line with the Congress on this issue would place it in a disadvantageous position vis-à-vis the Left Front in West Bengal.
Congress sources pointed out that on the day the Lokpal Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha, the Congress Core Group, aware of the reservations of the States, had met and decided to introduce an amendment to ensure that a Lokayukta Act on the lines of the proposed Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2011, could be enacted only with the consent of the States concerned. Indeed, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, they pointed out, had clarified this when he spoke in the Lok Sabha that evening.
Indeed, Mr. Mukherjee had said on December 27: “You have the apprehension that the federal structure will be jeopardised. But there will be no assault on the federal structure because we are going to bring an amendment… that without the consent of the State government, the notification under Section (1) (4) will not be issued.” That amendment was passed in the Lok Sabha.
Keywords: Lokpal Bill issue