Indian politics was in a tailspin as 2011 drew to a close as the Lokpal (Ombudsman) Bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha on December 27, collapsed in the Rajya Sabha a couple of days later.
The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, which is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha, found the going tough during an extended debate on the bill on December 29 when its biggest ally, the Trinamool Congress (TMC), refused to toe the government line and made clear its intention of voting against the bill. The TMC wanted all references to Lokayuktas (the state equivalent of Lokpal) and anti-corruption agencies like the CBI deleted from the bill on the grounds that these militated against the federal structure of the Constitution. This was the same stand taken by the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.
The TMC position struck a chord with virtually every opposition party, and the cornered government had no option but to not press for a vote, suggesting that the bill may now come before parliament in the budget session in March (unlike in the Lok Sabha, a bill introduced in the Rajya Sabha doesn’t die with the ending of the session). Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare for his part may have erred politically in ending his fast and cancelling further agitations.
Within hours of the midnight collapse of the bill, the UPA government and opposition indulged in an aggressive blame game.
Union Ministers P. Chidambaram, Pawan Kumar Bansal, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ambika Soni attacked the BJP for the fiasco in the Rajya Sabha, while top BJP leaders Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj accused the government of committing the “biggest ever parliamentary fraud.” Team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal, for his part, commented that what happened in the “Elders’ House” had been scripted outside.
Chidambaram played down the spoilsport behavior of ally Trinamool Congress, instead placing the blame squarely at the BJP’s door, saying the BJP had had no intention of passing the Lokpal Bill. He said the BJP and regional parties wanted a weakened bill, which is why 187 opposition amendments were moved in the House.
Bansal said the government’s main priority is to uphold Constitutional propriety and not worry about Team Anna. Azad said Rajya Sabha Chairman had to adjourn the House at midnight on December 29 at the request of the BJP.
Jaitley’s party colleague and Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said it was clear that the government wanted to dump the Lokpal Bill, arguing it was the UPA, not the BJP, which had constantly shifted its stand on the Lokpal issue.