New Delhi, Dec. 30: Heaving an inaudible sigh of relief, everybody is busy explaining why the other bloke did not want the Lokpal bill to be passed.
The UPA government today said the ploy to move as many as 187 amendments in the Rajya Sabha was the most conclusive evidence that some parties did not want the bill to be passed.
It rubbished suggestions of sitting through the night to vote on the bill as even a single amendment would have meant Lokpal not becoming a reality in this session. Any change would have required the bill to be sent back to the Lok Sabha, which had already been adjourned indefinitely.
Thats the real story, insisted home minister P. Chidambaram, explaining, the same parties which passed the bill in the Lok Sabha are in the Rajya Sabha. We can understand two-three amendments being brought but 187 in the second House? Can anyone make sense of those many amendments in such a short period? Can anyone distil them in 15-30 minutes, reconcile the contradictions, debate and pass them?
Not a single bill has ever been passed in independent India with an Opposition amendment. The practice has been that the government, if amenable to an idea, will adopt the amendment to be moved and the Opposition will withdraw it. This was not the case yesterday in the Rajya Sabha and the government feels it needed time to study the amendments and explore the possibility of their adoption.
Chidambaram said the government heeded the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and brought vital amendments: Lokayukta only after consent of the states, the removal of armed forces from the ambit, easing of criteria for cases against the Prime Minister and reporting to Lokpal by the Lok Sabha Speaker.
The home minister said the government could have given some concessions in the Rajya Sabha, too, but thrusting 187 amendments, several contradictory, was a ploy to block the bill.
Parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Bansal said: We would have been a subject of ridicule had we accepted these amendments. The bill would have been full of lacunae and become a laughing stock. We have to take care of the legal soundness of a bill, of constitutional propriety. We cant destroy our other institutions only to set up a new one. What is wrong if we wanted time to reconcile these amendments to be able to come up with a rational proposal?
Chidambaram asserted: The government has discharged its obligation. It brought the bill to reflect the earlier sense of the House and passed it in the Lok Sabha. What did the BJP do, except trying to block it at every stage? They changed their mind at several stages; gave written commitment on constitutional status and then opposed it. Agreed to Lokayukta while authoring the sense of House and reversed their position. And in the Rajya Sabha, give me one example when the Opposition moved 187 amendments to a bill passed in the Lok Sabha.
Both the government and the Congress apprehend the message that went out from the Rajya Sabha last night was negative and the BJP succeeded in creating an impression that trickery was used to prevent voting on the bill.
Hence they launched a propaganda offensive, trying to drive home the message that the bill would anyway have gone to the budget session next year even if a single amendment was carried through in the Rajya Sabha.
Realising the tide had turned after the political mileage the Congress got in the passage of the bill in the Lok Sabha, the government and the party tried to convince people that the choreography was done by the BJP to block the bill.
While Bansal addressed the media in the morning, the Congress and the group of ministers followed it up in the evening. Eloquent leaders like Salman Khurshid and Mani Shankar Aiyar were sent to television channels through the day to minimise the damage.
Bansal said the government pushed the bill in the Lok Sabha only after a broad convergence of ideas emerged through exhaustive consultative processes. Why did the BJP participate in the debate in both the Houses if it knew the entire exercise was choreographed to fail, he asked.
Information minister Ambika Soni said the BJP did not want Lokpal in order to ensure that Anna Hazare continued his agitation, which has an anti-Congress agenda.
Both Chidambaram and Soni repeatedly said the world knew the Congress did not have the numbers in the Rajya Sabha and needed other parties support to pass the bill and hence it was clear who should be blamed.
But Chidambaram added: We are happy the bill is safe. Had the bill been defeated, it would have been worse. Now we will bring it in the budget session and pass it. He said good sense might prevail on some parties in three months even if the numbers would not change drastically.