New Delhi: After two adjournments of the Lok Sabha, the government finally tabled the anti-corruption Lokpal Bill in Parliament today, well past the scheduled time of 2 pm. The BJP, Anna Hazare's team of activists, and Lalu Prasad Yadav have all rejected it for different reasons. The Bill will be debated on December 27 after which it will be put to a vote. What may have privately satisfied the government was the point that several politicians made - that the Bill must not be rushed through to satisfy the deadline or demands of Anna. "543 members of this House will decide on what is fate of the Lokpal." said Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. "All of you will collectively decide what you want to have. If you feel it is not necessary, we will not have it." (Read the Lokpal Bill) | (Lokpal Bill: Some highlights)
Team Anna, which has devoted this year to championing the cause of a strong Lokpal Bill now finds itself pointing out that earlier versions of the Bill prepared by the government were more effective. 74-year-old Anna reiterated this evening that the government has no intent of checking corruption. Like the BJP, he objects to the fact that the Lokpal Bill does not hand over administrative control of the CBI to the new ombudsman or Lokpal. Without this, his group says, the CBI will continue to be influenced in its investigations by the government. Anna's fast begins on December 27 in Mumbai, when Parliament will debate the Lokpal Bill. "Sonia Gandhi says the Bill is strong. If it is so, let her come out and debate with us in front of media. Let people see it," he challenged. (Read: Debate Lokpal Bill with us, Anna dares Sonia Gandhi) | (Reject Lokpal Bill, it is even weaker than earlier version: Team Anna) | (Poll: Who should CBI report to?)
For today, though, the government's main source of embarrassment was its public fumbling of the reservation issue for the nine members of the Lokpal or ombudsman agency. Last night, the government had removed the term 'minorities' where the Bill asks for a 50 per cent quota for the Lokpal. That's because the Constitution does not allow for reservation on the grounds of religion. But after Lalu led a raucous protest over this in the morning, the Lok Sabha was adjourned for a few hours. Sonia Gandhi and the Prime Minister used the break to meet with senior ministers like Mr Mukherjee and Salman Khurshid. They decided the minority quota would be reinstated through a correction in the language of the Bill, rather than via a formal amendment. So now, the 50 per cent reservation among the nine members of the new Lokpal will apply to Scheduled Castes and Tribes (SC/STs), Other Backward Classes (OBCs), women and minorities. Lalu thanked them in the Lok Sabha for this, but not in the way they would have liked - he refused to support the Bill. (Lokpal minority quota: Govt accepts Lalu's demand) | (Watch)
The BJP objected both to the government's method, which Yashwant Sinha described as blackmail, and to the quota, which the party says is unconstitutional. Senior leader Sushma Swaraj said, "The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that reservation cannot cross 50 per cent. This Bill sets apart a quota for 'not less than 50 per cent.' There are nine members - so it suggests reservation for five members. So if we go with this Bill, it will be struck down in seconds as patently unconstitutional. This language is not acceptable. Take back the Bill." Mr Mukherjee agreed that the quota is likely to be challenged in court, but said the government wants the judiciary to settle the matter. Ms Swaraj also said that the Bill violates the federal principles of the constitution by enforcing states to adopt it and create Lokayuktas or anti-corruption agencies. "This infringes upon the rights and dignity of states," she said. (Lokpal Bill: BJP not content with what's on offer)
As he often does, Lalu made a lengthy speech littered with potshots at political heavyweights - Sonia Gandhi was covered, so was LK Advani. His most biting remarks were reserved for Team Anna. "Why are we letting a team of four people who include a retired bureaucrat, two retired lawyers, and a social activist dictate terms to Parliament? The country should be run by authority, not agitation" he said. Lalu objected to the inclusion of the Prime Minister among the offices that the Lokpal can investigate. "Hundreds of people will file politically-motivated cases, he said. What face will we show abroad if our leader travels there and he is being investigated at home?" He urged the government to ignore Anna's fast. "Let him look after his own health," he said. "Take back this Bill, send it to a standing committee, fix it and then convince us to pass it," he said.
Gurudas Das Gupta of the Left was also unflinching in his criticism of Anna, describing him as "a man who pretends to be another father of the nation." He said, "There is no single crusader against corruption. Please don't be afraid of another hunger strike."
Though this is the argument that the government has so often made, Mr Mukherjee had to defend the need to handle the Bill with urgency. He stressed that legislation can only be done in the House, not in agitations or on the street. But he also made the point that in August, both Houses of Parliament had appealed to Anna to end a 12-day fast by promising to consider his vision of the Lokpal Bill.