Sheela Bhatt analyses the debate over the Lokpal bill in Parliament
"Iss bill ko vapis le lo!" Sushma Swaraj, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, told the government on Tuesday while debating the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 2011. She asked government "withdraw the bill and send it to a standing committee. Get it back after two-three months. The sky won't fall if it is sent to a standing committee."
She somewhat got the pulse of many people when she said, "The government is acting as if it just wants to be able to tell the nationwide agitation that look we have brought a bill."
This clears one angle of the entangled political situation. The Bharatiya Janata Party is not ready to support the United Progressive Alliance's Lokpal bill.
While speaking on behalf of the UPA government, Union telecom minister and lawyer Kapil Sibal spoke less about the fine democratic ideals behind the bill but targeted Swaraj.
He tried to fix the BJP by demolishing Swaraj's arguments quoting law books. He ridiculed the BJP's double-speak on corruption.
It was surprising that Sibal was more political than Swaraj, whose speech harped more on legal issues to hit at the government's wrong use of legal provisions of the Constitution.
Sibal in retaliation told Swaraj and the house that it is dangerous when parliamentarians try to be advocates. The main theme of his speech was, "If you reject this bill then people of this country will not forgive you." Sibal said it is a political conspiracy by the BJP not to allow Parliament to pass the bill.
He desperately tried to shift the blame that may come in way of the government.
Lalu Yadav didn't even try to follow any nicety. He spoke what he wanted to. He intervened out of turn. He went a step ahead and asked why Parliament is wasting its time debating the bill? Like Swaraj but for different reasons he asked the government to withdraw the bill.
He argued that this bill was prepared in hurry and in confusion. "Teen din kasrat kyu karva rahe ho? (why are you asking us to go through this exercise for three days?)" he asked. He said with contempt in his voice, "Just remove this bill from here (hatao yeh bill yeha se)!"
The debate on the Lokpal bill was started by Members of Parliament half-heartedly and with an eye to settle political scores. Around 50 MPs have expressed desire to speak on the issue. A Congress minister claimed that the debate may continue on Wednesday.
The level of debate, so far, does not raise any hope of this Parliament's resolve to rise to the occasion and pass a strong Lokpal bill by incorporating amendments. There is not just a deadlock over the major issues in the Lokpal bill but one can smell the bad blood between the main parties.
The differences between the Congress and the BJP are too obvious and it seems, as expected, this Parliament is a divided house on the issue of fighting corruption.
The focus of the debate should have been corruption and the means and ways to fight it but Swaraj and Sibal, who spoke before the lunch break, showed inflexibility to give away political ground for the common good.
Sushma started her speech by commenting on minister V Narayanswami, who initiated the debate. She said government is placing these bills in a fit of rage. She said the ministers normally introduce bills very calmly and request the support of the house but the minister seems ready for the battle. Swaraj forcefully told government that just take away this bill which is full of 'vikruti and visangati' (hideous and discordant elements).
Swaraj's speech was delivered with clarity but she lacked the punch which is normally present in her speeches. She said this bill violates the 'sense of the house'.
She then argued in detail that how this bill violates the federal structure of the Constitution. She read out some lines from the Constitution. She emphasised that states have right to enact their own laws on this issue which concerns the state's employees. She said that the Centre is imposing the lokayukta on states by making it mandatory. She asked, "Is the Lokayuktas bill mandatory or optional?" She objected to the minority quota by saying that enough number of times the minority have got constitutional positions in the system.
She said, "Don't divide the country by having quota in constitutional positions." She said she fails to understand how this government is asking for support for a bill which is unconstitutional? She spoke against government's control over the CBI and too many safeguards to protect the prime minister from the Lokpal.
Before ending her speech she requested government to bring the bill back to the Lok Sabha after three months. She also told the government to bring the Lokpal bill under Article 252 of the Constitution.
Sibal's speech started cleverly. He was successful in making Swaraj look nervous and other members of the BJP were in tizzy when he rightly pointed out that in states where the BJP rules, the party's attitude to corruption is weak while at the Centre they are asking for a stronger Lokpal.
However, he also took on Swaraj by saying Article 252 is just not applicable here. He also quoted the BJP's own dissent note where the party had supported the idea of having the Lokpal bill under Article 253 of the Constitution.
Sibal alleged that the BJP wanted the Lokpal to cover the UPA at the Centre and not have a Lokayukta to hold them accountable in those states where they are ruling.
This charge sticks on the BJP but soon Sibal's speech lost steam. His arguments favouring quota in the Lokpal panel were the weakest.
Sibal was his usual self. He was sometimes arrogant and most times smirking and over-confident. He tried to trap Swaraj, "Will you agree today in the Lok Sabha that you will pass strong Lokayukta bill in the states where the BJP is ruling?" Sibal was trying to set agenda but in the end he didn't succeed.
Most MPs in Parliament were inquiring about the crowds at Anna Hazare fast in Mumbai. In fact, some Congressmen were thrilled that till 2 pm the crowd at Team Anna's event was below expectations. However, Arvind Kejriwal's well-focused and scathing attack was seen on a few television sets inside Parliament building.
Kejriwal made it clear that there is no meeting ground between government and Team Anna. He declared a no-holds-bar war against the government's Lokpal bill.