The United Progressive Alliance government finally introduced a new draft of the Lokpal (Ombudsman) Bill in parliament Thursday, withdrawing the previous draft amid pandemonium in the house as members of different political parties objected to various provisions.
As soon as Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs V. Narayanasamy moved the new bill in the Lok Sabha, Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj questioned why the Lokpal Bill provided reservations for minorities. She went on to lambast the government for not being serious about the anti-graft legislation and said the bill would be struck down by a court because reservations on the basis of religion are unconstitutional. She demanded that the new Lokpal Bill be withdrawn. Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare was also quick to trash the bill, demanding that the government come up with a new draft.
Former Railways Minister and President of the Rashtriya Janata Dal Lalu Prasad Yadav also demanded that the bill be reworked, a stand strongly supported by several parties including the Shiv Sena, the Samajwadi Party and the Biju Janata Dal that feel the government is unnecessarily bending over backwards for Hazare on the Lokpal issue – and in the process diluting the sovereignty of parliament.
Yadav opposes putting the prime minister under the Lokpal’s ambit and argued that the Indian premier’s image around the world would be compromised if a case or two were slapped against him in front of the Lokpal
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee for his part defended the legislation, arguing that it wasn’t an ordinary bill and that the whole nation was restless for such a move. Mukherjee also said that the parliament should do its job and not worry about how its laws are treated by the courts:
“If a bill is struck by courts it doesn’t mean that parliament doesn’t pass the bill. It is for the courts to judge the constitutionality of a bill. Our job is to make and pass the bill. Let the court do their job, we will do our job,” Mukherjee reportedly said.
The bill will come up for discussion in both houses of parliament next week, but will likely require the assistance of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left parties to get passed.
And, as I mentioned this week, Hazare is also scheduled to start his latest agitation from December 27.