BJP, Congress seek to pin down each other on Lokpal bill fiasco

New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress-led UPA government unleashed a barrage of attacks on each other Friday over the Lokpal bill fiasco, setting the tone for their electoral fight in five states over the next two months.

After the Rajya Sabha was adjourned sine die amid chaos Thursday midnight without putting to vote the bill for an anti-graft ombudsman, the battlelines were drawn. As people speculated on the behind-the-scenes political games, politicians traded charges in public in the surcharged atmosphere.

Members of Team Anna, headed by anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare, cried foul and blamed the Indian government for ‘deceiving the people’ and vowed to continue their fight for a Lokpal.

Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi joined his party colleagues in slamming the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Lokpal bill.

The earliest the bill can be considered is in February during the budget session of parliament. Confusion persisted over in what form the bill, passed by the Lok Sabha on December 27, would be brought back to the Rajya Sabha. If there are new amendments, the bill would have to go back to the Lok Sabha.

“The government was defeated in the Lok Sabha on the constitutional amendment bill and they ran away from voting in the Rajya Sabha… (It) has no right to retain power. The Prime Minister should tender his resignation, taking moral responsibility,” said Bharatiya Janata Party president Nitin Gadkari.

“At the stroke of midnight hour when the world slept, India awoke to a fraud being played on its parliamentary democracy,” added his colleague Arun Jaitley, paraphrasing Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech.

“If that was freedom at midnight, this is ‘flee-dom’ at midnight,” he said.

The leader of opposition in parliament’s upper house said the house sitting could have been extended after midnight if the government wanted.

The government was under equal attack from its mercurial ally Trinamool Congress, which had moved 37 amendments against the inclusion of Lokayuktas in states and feared loss of federal autonomy. “It is shameful, a sad day for democracy,” said Trinamool’s Derek O’Brien.

The embattled government blamed the BJP for the Lokpal fiasco, saying the main opposition party with ‘an understanding with some other parties’ devised a strategy of submitting a large number of amendments to ensure the bill is held up in the Rajya Sabha.

Four key ministers, including Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni put forth the government’s viewpoint and said only Congress-led UPA government wanted the Lokpal bill to be passed.

“At least 187 amendments were moved. The last of which was received at 6 (p.m. Thursday). That is the real story,” Chidambaram said.

He said it was impossible for the government to reconcile with such a large number of amendments in a limited time.

Soni said only the government was in favour of passing the Lokpal bill.

“We fulfilled our promise to bring it in winter session, even though BJP disgraced the bill and did not let it get passed. What was the problem in letting it pass in Rajya Sabha the way it was in Lok Sabha?” she said.

Bansal said the government had offered to the opposition to initiate debate on December 28 evening itself, but the BJP wanted the debate from December 29. The ministers said the bill will be taken up in the budget session.

Asked about the stance of the Trinamool Congress, Chidambaram said the issue would be discussed with the Mamata Banerjee-led party.

Rahul Gandhi, who Friday addressed a rally in Saharanpur, attacked the BJP for not supporting constitutional status to the Lokpal and said he would continue to fight till this is realised.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the government was being blamed for the murder of democracy but ‘the assassins are blaming the victims’.

As the government and the main opposition party battled it out, Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Rajniti Prasad justified his tearing up a copy of the bill in the house.

He said it was a ‘bad’ piece of legislation and what he did was right.

Team Anna member Kiran Bedi said the onus was on the government to get it cleared and it should have told parliament members that they were bound by the resolution passed by the house.

Clearly, the Lokpal bill is likely to be as hotly debated in the New Year too.

The BJP said it will meet President Pratibha Patil on January 3 to register their protest and launch a countrywide agitation campaign ‘Save democracy, remove Congress’ January 3-10.