Bill rejection was outcome of misreading the situation: Bansal
The rejection of the Constitution Amendment Bill on Lokpal in the Lok Sabha has set off a debate on whether the government has lost its moral authority to govern when it has failed to demonstrate a simple majority on the floor of the House.
Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj was categorical that the inability of the UPA to prove a simple majority of 273 in a House of 545 has put a question mark on its moral authority to continue in office.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal rejected this contention. Given the strength of the ruling combine in the Lok Sabha, there was no way it could have ensured the passage of the Bill, he said. “Where is the question of loss of moral authority when the inability of the government to carry through a constitutional amendment without the support of the Opposition is inherent in the very nature of the current Lok Sabha?”
Leave alone the Opposition, the government could not convince some of its allies and supporting parties to back the Lokpal Bill, Ms. Swaraj said. Without naming the Trinamool Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, she said some of the partners of the UPA openly criticised the Bill.
The Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (which extend issue based support to the UPA) walked out from the Lok Sabha when the Lokpal Bill came for voting. “A government which could not muster support from its own ranks is putting the blame at our door. Is it our responsibility to do floor management?” Ms. Swaraj said.
Countering the charge that it was the poor floor management of the government that led to the collapse of the Constitution amendment Bill, Mr. Bansal maintained that it was a misreading of the situation. His argument was that if all the 277 members of the UPA were present in the House, the Bill would still not have sailed through. There were two requirements for passing a Constitution amendment Bill. It had to be adopted by two-thirds of the members of the House present and voting and with a majority not less than 50 per cent of the strength of the House.
“If we look at the situation in the Lok Sabha, as per the count, 420 members were present and voted on the Constitution Amendment Bill. Support of at least 285 was needed to see the Bill through. The combined strength of the UPA in the House is only 276, excluding the Speaker. So it can't be anyone's argument that the Bill fell as only 251 UPA members were present at the time of voting,” Mr. Bansal said.
The Minister conceded that at least 13 members of the Congress and seven members of the UPA alliance were not present when the Bill came up for voting. The Congress would serve show cause notice to its MPs to explain their absence. “We will look at their response and consider appropriate action.”
Ms. Swaraj said the government could not have counted on the BJP's support as the party had pointed to the “patently unconstitutional” elements in the Constitution Amendment Bill at the time of the introduction of the Lokpal Bill as well as in the course of the discussion. The party had made it clear that it would not support the Bill in its present form. “We voted against the Lokpal Bill. How can anyone expect us to support the Constitution Amendment Bill conferring constitutional status on an “unconstitutional” Lokpal?” Ms. Swaraj said.