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Confusion prevails as parties fuss over quota in Lokpal

Last updated on: December 22, 2011 23:41 IST

If quota in Lokpal is taken off the Yadav leaders will object it, and if it remains, the BJP will oppose it. This situation is advantageous for the Congress to take credit and pass the blame, reports Sheela Bhatt.

The government has added a few more knots to the Lokpal imbroglio while tabling the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011. The day may NOT be called historic. It was the day of deception; in fact many deceptions.

Congress leaders were confused and conspiring. The Opposition leaders were ambiguous and worried of ending up without a seat in the game of musical chairs.

The government knowingly went on to table the bill that some of its own ministers say violates the Indian Constitution. The reservation for weaker sections and minorities has to be less than 50 percent under the existing law, and also, under the Indian style federal structure, the government cannot form laws that could overlap with existing State laws without following procedures.

When Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushma Swaraj raised these objections and expressed fear that the new Lokpal Bill be struck down by the Supreme Court, Pranab Mukherjee responded, "Many a bills have been passed in this House or in other House or in both the Houses which the Supreme Court has struck down as unconstitutional. But that does not mean that Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha, while passing the bill, insulted the Constitution or violated the provisions of the Constitution. It is the Constitutional responsibility of this House to pass the laws within its legislative competence and it is for the judiciary to sit upon whether the laws passed and the various provisions of the bill are in conformity with the various provisions of the Constitution. Let this House not assume the role of the judiciary describing it that it is anti-Constitutional."

The low point of the day was the comedy act by Lalu Prasad Yadav. He was Congress's ace card on Thursday. Congress leaders don't have conviction to speak their mind so they gave space and time to Lalu. He gave a long speech against the proposed Lokpal, against Anna Hazare and people who lit candles to protest against corruption. Congressmen, including Sonia Gandhi, were thumping the desk whenever Lalu took on Anna and his team. But Lalu's speech was a mockery of people who are against corruption and not necessarily Anna's supporters.

Lalu has a dubious record of corruption and is the main accused in the fodder scam and has faced a disproportionate assets case.

In the house of 544 members Lalu's party has only 4 members, but Congress gave a mandate to Lalu to bash Anna and his supporters who lit candles to protest against the government. Deputy Speaker Francisco Cosme Sardinha on several occasions tried to stop Lalu from crossing his time limit but the Anna bashers, an overwhelming number of Lok Sabha members, were engrossed and enjoying.

Sonia Gandhi and other leaders displayed a level of confidence. The Congress played the Muslim card in the garb of minority quota today to isolate the BJP on the issue of Lokpal. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has already lodged a staunch opposition against Congress' move.

However, Congress has opened a little window of opportunity in passing the Lokpal Bill in Lok Sabha.

If Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Left parties do not create a last minute scene or create legal obstacles inside the house, Congress may move ahead. But, there is still a long way to go considering the current fluid political situation.

Congress now has its eyes set on the Uttar Pradesh election. If in the first week of the new year Anna Hazare sits on dharna outside 10 Janpath, Sonia Gandhi's house, she wants to claim that she tried to pass the bill but others failed her.

Congress has been trying to fight the charges of corruption since long but has not been successful. Today, in the fast-forwarding political development, the new Lokpal bill was hand delivered at Arun Jaitley's house in Kailash Colony at 3 am, early morning of Thursday. After BJP leaders met on Wednesday with Pranab Mukherjee, quota for minority was removed from the final version of the bill. The bill that Jaitley got had no quota for minority.

But when Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Yadav came to know about it they created a ruckus. The bill then got back the minority quota. There was no clarity on what ministers were doing and not doing with the bill, there was no sanity in the demands of various parties vis-a-vis quota. The idea of quota was ashamedly used to blunt the issue of corruption.  

A member of the BJP said on reading the bill that it was made in such haste that, "Congress has made India Anna Republic which is worst than Banana Republic."   

Congress's calculation is that if the debate shifts to quota politics, TV camera's focus will dim on corruption and Anna Hazare.

As soon as the Lokpal Bill was tabled in Lok Sabha today a senior leader and Member of Parliament of Nationalist Congress said that, "As for record there is nothing that stops UPA to pass this bill in Lok Sabha. Because, my party, Dravida Munettra Kazhagam, Trinmool Congress have been taken on board by the Congress. The issue of minority quota is a toxic card in the pack to off set the nexus of BJP and Team Anna."

When asked why Congress opted for 50 percent quota, he responded, "Since long BJP is badgering Congress through Anna Hazare's movement. Congress has judged correctly that Anna has the appeal in urban middle class and in the media but its impact on electoral politics will be limited. So, Congress, lately, decided to put its weight to go with the Lokpal bill. Particularly, when Congress saw the local elections results in Maharashtra party it feels confident to take on Team Anna. It's a weak bill in eye of the opposition, but UPA will go with it with conviction provided Yadav leaders don't create serious obstacles."

He said when BJP is doing everything possible to push the government into a corner; Congress has all the right to expose BJP. Like Congress, BJP doesn't want a strong Lokpal Bill but is still pushing Congress to the wall to pass the bill.

An NCP leader stated an Urdu couplet, "Hum bhi dubenge lekin tumko bhi le dubenge sanam (We will ensure that we sink together)". He said Congress is trapped to pass the Lokpal bill. Now, with quota card in the Lokpal Bill BJP will never be able to support it. Congress has ensured that BJP will have to share the blame in some measure if there is an unpleasant result.

However, another NCP leader and the party's behind-the-scenes strategist said, "If the supporters of Anna Hazare picks up the issue of "minority card" played by Congress then it will be advantage BJP." 

However, many leaders of the Congress party believe that the Cabinet has passed 4.5 percent caste-based reservation for Muslims within the OBC quota that will yield more political advantage than moving reservation in Lokpal institution.

If during the debate in Lok Sabha through the amendment, if quota in Lokpal is taken off the Yadav leaders will object and if it remains in the bill the BJP will oppose it. This situation is advantageous for Congress to take credit and pass the blame. But, this victory, if at all it comes, will be pyrrhic.

The main idea of Lokpal bill was to satisfy people who are genuinely struggling with the corrupt system in governance. But those people are not going to buy the Congress bill with or without quota.

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi