There is a question mark on adoption of the Lokpal Bill in the current session of Parliament, which is scheduled to end on December 22, as consensus on the contentious issues eluded an all-party meeting presided over by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday night.
Bringing the Central Bureau of Investigation within the ambit of the Lokpal was one of the key issues over which there was division between the ruling UPA and the Opposition, and even within the Opposition. As an Opposition party leader, who took part in the 4-hour deliberations put it, the meeting was almost a “replay” of the show at the Parliamentary Committee, which considered the various provisions of the Bill in some detail.
The committee report, with dissent notes appended on 17 issues, raised more questions than it sought to answer. It failed even to reflect Parliament's ‘sense of the House' resolution, stamping its approval ‘in principle' on three main demands of Team Anna.
The government, on its part, hinted that it had no issue with the spirit of the Parliament resolution. These are — the Citizen's Charter, inclusion of the lower bureaucracy under the Lokpal through an appropriate mechanism, and establishment of the Lokayukta in States. But the Opposition is divided even on these. The BJP was keen on including Group C and D employees within the Lokpal, but the CPI was firmly against this.
Earlier in the day, even Central Vigilance Commissioner Pradeep Kumar expressed reservations on about the proposal. CBI chief A.P. Singh, who met the Prime Minister separately, voiced concerns about the demand for bringing his organisation within the ambit of the Lokpal.
At the meet, the government lent its ear to the leaders of various parties and did not commit itself on several specific issues. UPA troubleshooter and Finance Minister Pranab Mukheree told the leaders at the end of the meeting that the government would factor in their views when the Cabinet met on December 18/19.
With the winter session scheduled to end on December 22 and the threat of another indefinite fast by Mr. Hazare looming, the government was keen on reaching consensus among all parties to ensure that the Lokpal Bill did not a hit a road block when it came up for consideration in the Lok Sabha. However, sharp differences voiced by leaders of various parties suggest that it will be an uphill task for the government to ensure smooth sailing of the Bill in the current session.
A broad agreement among UPA partners at Tuesday's meeting had raised hopes of the government getting most of the parties on board and arriving at consensus to secure the smooth passage of the Bill. The government can still push it through if it succeeds in roping in some of the opposing groups. However, what is certain is that the ‘game changer' proposal of Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi to accord constitutional status to the Lokpal would go for a toss.
The Opposition leaders, according to Lok Jan Shakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan, conveyed to the government that it should not be seen doing any thing “in a hurry” or under pressure from any quarter. There were suggestions that a special session of Parliament could be convened to allow time for evolving consensus. But the moot question is, if the political class in Parliament could not agree on the contours of the Bill from August till date, will it be reasonable to expect such agreement in the next few weeks.
In his opening remarks, Dr. Singh struck a conciliatory note and indicated that his government was flexible on the three contentious issues in the Bill.
However, there is no clarity on the government position on bringing the CBI within the ambit of the Lokpal and on the concerns of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) over inclusion of Group C employees. On Wednesday morning, the chiefs of the CBI and the CVC met Dr. Singh and shared their concerns on various aspects of the Lokpal.
Dr. Singh referred to the August 27 ‘sense of the House' resolution, agreeing ‘in principle' to the three issues, but did not give any indication on the position of the government over inclusion of the Prime Minister.