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A bill with 9 lives & a ‘jinx’

New Delhi, Aug. 29: The Lokpal bill is into its ninth life but the eight previous governments that tried to deliver it failed to show similar cat-like survival skills.

Call it a jinx if you like. For over four decades, the bill has repeatedly been introduced only to be forgotten and then resurrected again. But almost all the governments that tried to give it birth died prematurely themselves some within months and the two that completed their terms got waist-deep in problems and failed to return.

The Congress was the first to try. On May 1, 1968, then home minister Y.B. Chavan introduced the bill in the Lok Sabha and it was referred to a joint select committee that completed its work in a year. The House passed the bill on August 20, 1969.

But before the legislation could travel the few yards to the Rajya Sabha, the fourth Lok Sabha was dissolved following the Congress’s split into Congress () and Congress (R). Nothing was heard of the bill for the next two years and, despite its passage in the Lok Sabha, it lapsed.

On August 2, 1971, Ram Niwas Mirdha, junior personnel minister in the Indira Gandhi ministry, brought it back to the Lok Sabha. But within weeks, India had gone to war with Pakistan.

Thereafter, Indira’s term was dogged by problems, from food shortage and price rise to bandhs and corruption, culminating in the June 1975 court judgment against her election that led to the Emergency. So the Lokpal bill was the last thing on her mind. Her government lasted its term but lost the 1977 election.

The victorious Janata Party government took up the bill. Charan Singh, home minister in the Morarji Desai cabinet, placed it in the House on July 23, 1977. But the Janata Party’s innings ended in just over two years.

The fourth to introduce the bill on August 25, 1985 was Rajiv Gandhi’s law minister A.K. Sen. Rajiv’s decision to bring it within a year of securing a stupendous majority appeared to be in sync with his promise to root out corruption.

But the bill was again referred to a standing committee and forgotten as the Bofors cloud gathered steam and the Ram temple agitation got off the blocks. Rajiv never returned to power.

The V.P. Singh government, high on its pre-poll promise of bringing the corrupt to justice, introduced the bill in its first Parliament session. The government didn’t last even a year.

P.V. Narasimha Rao didn’t touch the bill for the five years he ruled but his successor H.D. Deve Gowda, Prime Minister of the United Front coalition, introduced it on September 10, 1996. By April next year, he was gone. The Front itself was ousted later in the year.

On July 23, 1998, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s National Democratic Alliance resurrected what by then was already looking like a doomed legislation. It followed the familiar route to a standing committee and, before anything substantive could be done, Vajpayee had lost his majority in April 1999 in less than a year and by a single vote.

Vajpayee returned but the bill had to wait until 2001, when deputy personnel minister Vasundhara Raje placed it in Parliament on July 9. The House panel that vetted it was headed by Pranab Mukherjee, who completed the job in record time.

However, the NDA government sat on the bill. Then, buoyed by its Assembly poll victories, it called a snap general election and lost.

UPA I didn’t once think of the bill. Now UPA II has revived it and suffered its gravest political crisis. When a revised draft comes up, perhaps in winter, will the Lokpal be tenth time lucky?

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