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