In­dia Jinxed, Yet Again

With the gov­ern­ment in In­dia at odds with the op­po­si­tion, the con­tro­ver­sial Lok­pal bill re­mains in limbo.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Sun­darara­jan Mu­rari

Will In­dia ever have a strong om­buds­man? For the first time in 44 years, the Lok Sabha has passed a bill for Lok­pal, or om­buds­man. Iron­i­cally enough, the bill has faced heated op­po­si­tion in the Ra­jya Sabha. This raises the ques­tion as to whether the gov­ern­ment was se­ri­ous about the bill or, hav­ing wilted un­der pres­sure from Anna Hazare’s hunger strike for a strong Lok­pal, it en­acted a cha­rade ahead of elec­tions in five states, in­clud­ing the all- im­por­tant Ut­tar Pradesh, in March.

The Congress-led United Pro­gres­sive Al­liance gov­ern­ment tabled a bill that was weak and con­sti­tu­tion­ally sus­pect. The Lok Sabha passed it with a bare ma­jor­ity. An ac­com­pa­ny­ing con­sti­tu­tion amend­ment bill to give con­sti­tu­tional sta­tus to the om­buds­man was de­feated since a con­sti­tu­tion bill needs twothirds sup­port. The gov­ern­ment knew it had only a bare ma­jor­ity in the Lok Sabha and re­mains a mi­nor­ity in the Up­per House. Faced with the prospect of the op­po­si­tion amend­ing the Lok­pal bill, the Congress abruptly ad­journed the Ra­jya Sabha at mid­night of De­cem­ber 27 last year with­out a vote, thus bring­ing the ex­tended win­ter ses­sion to an end.

The Op­po­si­tion, BJP, has ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of hav­ing stage-man­aged dis­tur­bances and ad­journ­ing the House abruptly to avoid a vote. The Congress main- tains the bill could not be put to vote as the op­po­si­tion had moved as many as 187 amend­ments and the gov­ern­ment needed to study them be­fore the bill could be taken up in the bud­get ses­sion sched­uled for March. By then, elec­tions to five states will be out of the way and the gov­ern­ment hopes the out­come will re­de­fine the stand of po­lit­i­cal par­ties on the is­sue.

It is how­ever not so sim­ple. Not only the op­po­si­tion, but also al­lies of the Tri­namool Congress are against the bill. To ap­pease the al­lies, and other sup­port­ing par­ties, the gov­ern­ment will have to delete an en­tire chap­ter deal­ing with the set­ting up of Lokayuk­tas in the states. Re­gional par­ties, as well as the BJP that has

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