New Delhi: After clearing the Lok Sabha hurdle the amended Lokpal Bill has been placed in the Rajya Sabha, which will debate and vote on it on Thursday. The Lokpal Bill faces a tough test in the Upper House of Parliament where the Opposition enjoys a clear majority and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government has been trying to muster up the supports of the MPs.
UPA floor managers will have to use all their political acumen to prevent an embarrassment like the one witnessed during the voting on the Bill granting Constitutional status to the Lokpal that was defeated in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday as several MPs belonging to the Congress and its allies were absent.
The Opposition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and key UPA constituents - Trinamool Congress and Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) have voiced their strong protests against the clause relating to the setting up of Lokayuktas by the states in the Lokpal Bill.
Several regional outfits including Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party, the Biju Janata Dal and All India Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (AIADMK) have also expressed their reservations over the clause which according to them is an encroachment over the states' rights and an attack on the federal structure of the country.
During the acrimonious debate on the Lokpal Bill in the Lok Sabha the fissures within the UPA were clearly visible when Trinamool Congress MP Kalyan Banerjee alleged that the proposed Lokpal would impinge on the rights of the states.
On Wednesday Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Parliamentary Affairs Minister PK Bansal and Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office V Narayansamy met Trinamool Congress leaders Sudip Bandhopadhyay and Mukul Roy to try and find common ground on the Lokpal Bill and the Lokayukta clause.
Trinamool Congress’s six Rajya Sabha MPs met at the residence of Union Minister of State for Shipping Mukul Roy on Wednesday morning to strategise their party’s stand on the Bill. The party is planning to move an amendment related to the Lokayuktas.
Mukherjee also met Leader of Opposition and BJP MP Arun Jaitley to discuss the Lokpal Bill. The meeting assumes significance as Jaitley has said that the federal structure of the country is non-negotiable.
“I feel that any move to break the federal structure of the country is a non-negotiable principle,” said Jaitley.
Mukhjerjee during the debate in the Lok Sabha had announced that the clause had been amended and the notification with regards to the Lokayuktas cannot be issued without the states consent.
Even as the numbers are stacked against the UPA in the Rajya Sabha and the Opposition has been sharpening its knives, Bansal sounded confident that the Bill will be passed.
“We are confident that the Government has the numbers to ensure passage of the Lokpal Bill in the Rajya Sabha,” Bansal said.
The discussion and voting on the Bill will take place on Thursday. Several amendments have been proposed in the Bill and many speakers listed to take part in debate for which eight hours have been allotted.
If any amendment rejected by the Lok Sabha is passed in the Rajya Sabha then a joint sitting of both the Houses will have to be called to get the Bill passed.
Not willing to take chances and to avoid the embarrassment that the party faced in the Lok Sabha where some of its MPs were not present during the debate, Congress President Sonia Gandhi issued a dictat on Wednesday to all Rajya Sabha MPs of the party, asking them to be present in the House.
But the going will not be easy for the Congress and the UPA in the Rajya Sabha where the Opposition calls the shots.
The role of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), all of whom abstained from voting in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday night resulting in the defeat of the Constitution Amendment Bill, will be very crucial and their stand holds the key.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in touch with the Shiv Sena, the Biju Janta Dal and the Asom Gana Parishad. The Left parties are also likely to oppose the Bill.
But the Samajwadi Party, BSP, RJD and Lok Janshakti Party could tip the scales in favour of the UPA, which must have heaved a sigh of relief after Anna Hazare’s protest fast at Mumbai fizzled out with only a few hundred people coming to the MMRDA ground to show their solidarity with the anti-corruption agitation.
The UPA must be counting on the support of smaller parties and Independents to get the Bill passed.
In the 245-member House, the Congress (71) along with its allies DMK (seven), National Conference (two), Mizo National Front (one), Nationalist Congress Party (seven), Nagaland People's Front (one), Rashtriya Lok Dal (one), Bodoland People's Front (one) and Trinamool Congress (six) has the support of 97 MPs.
But the stand of the Trinamool Congress is not yet clear. The eight nominated members are also likely to go with the Government giving the UPA a support of 105 MPs.
Parties supporting the Government from outside - BSP (18), Samajwadi Party (five) and RJD (four) - account for 27 crucial votes. These three parties had walked out of the Lok Sabha before voting on the Lokpal Bill night but their absence did not matter much because the Bill required only a simple majority and it was passed by a voice vote.
Independent and Others account for six votes, Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) one, LJP one, Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) one. How these nine MPs will vote is still unclear.
But if they along with the 27 MPs belonging to the BSP, Samajwadi Party and RJD abstain, then the strength of the Rajya Sabha comes down to 209 and the half way mark also comes down to 105.
The Opposition camp consists of 102 MPs belonging to the BJP (51 MPs), Communist Party of India (Marxist) (13), Communist Party of India (five), Biju Janata Dal (six), AIADMK (five), Asom Gana Parishad (two), Forward Block (one), Janata Dal (United) (eight), Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) (three), Shiv Sena (four) and Telugu Desam Party (four).
The BJP which had also raised a number of objections to the Lokpal bill was to some extent mollified because the government came out with official amendments like giving option to states to set up a Lokayukta, changing the requirement of three-fourth members to clear investigation against Prime Minister to two-third and to protect the powers of Lok Sabha Speaker and Rajya Sabha Chairman in regard to MPs.
However, BJP still has strong reservation over the provision for quota for minorities in the Lokpal structure and control of the Lokpal over the Central Bureau of Investigation.
With the threat of another show of the strength by Anna Hazare and his supporters almost over, the Government must now be counting on the support of outfits like the BSP, Samajwadi Party and RJD to ensure that the Lokpal Bill passes the Rajya Sabha hurdle too.