The clock for the three-day timetable Parliament has set for itself to consider and pass the landmark Lokpal Bill and two related legislation will begin ticking a few hours from now. Neither those managing the affairs of the government nor those ranged in the Opposition are sure what will unfold.
However, what seems certain is a high-voltage political theatre. The government is determined to take up the Lokpal Bill, along with a Bill to give it constitutional status and another to protect whistle-blowers. Not just that, a senior minister told The Hindu: “We will make sure it is passed.” Failure to do so, the government believes, will give a shot in the arm to Anna Hazare and his campaign; while passing it might well take the steam out of it.
The Opposition parties, on the other hand, are equally determined to move a plethora of amendments on several contentious clauses relating to the CBI, the representation of minorities on the Lokpal and the State's right to legislate on Lokayuktas, among other issues.
The three Bills figure in the list of business of the Lok Sabha and, if they go through in the House, they will be taken up by the Rajya Sabha later. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal has appealed to all the parties not to press any amendments and help in the passage of the Bills.
The much-awaited outcome of the extended session of Parliament coincides with the three-day fast in Mumbai by anti-corruption crusader and social activist Anna Hazare who has captured the popular imagination. He has since reached Mumbai from Ralegan Siddhi.
The tumultuous debate witnessed in the Lok Sabha at the time of the introduction of the Lokpal Bill on December 23 has left little doubt that several clauses in it are contentious.
It is not just the Opposition, but some parties, such as the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, that have sided with the UPA in its hour of need, too are opposed to some of the crucial elements of the Bill. However, there are differences within the ranks of those who oppose the Bill over how it could be improved upon.
On the face of it, the reluctance on the part of the UPA to allow the Lokpal some degree of control over the CBI and the clause which places the Lokayuktas under Article 253 are two issues on which the entire Opposition is broadly united.
The BJP has tasked the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, with drafting the amendments. Indications are that it will move half-a-dozen amendments. The provision of a quota for minorities in the Lokpal has rattled the BJP. Its argument that this is in violation of the provisions of the Constitution has found no takers.
On the creation of the Lokayuktas in the States under Article 253 of the Constitution, the Opposition and some other parties contend that it undermines the federal structure of the Constitution by making it obligatory for the States to follow the Lokpal pattern. Instead, they want the Lokayuktas placed under Article 252.
The BJP and the Left are for bringing Group C employees directly under the control of the Lokpal. The RJD and the Shiv Sena are strongly against the proposal to place the Prime Minister under the Lokpal. The ruling combine, which has a little more than a simple majority of 272 in the Lok Sabha, can count on a smooth sailing for the Bill as long as it keeps its flock together and ensures the presence of all its members.