Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cannot understand why Constitution Amendment on Lokpal can't go through…...

Instead of being overjoyed, Team Anna appears to believe that the Congress proposal to make the Lokpal into a Constitutional body is a ploy. They believe that the proposal will not muster the requisite majority in Parliament. I cannot understand why?  
A Constitutional amendment needs only half the votes of the total house AND 2/3rds majority amongst the members present in Parliament to pass muster (My information earlier was wrong – when I said that 2/3rds of the total house needed to support). The Congress itself (not the UPA) has 205 MPs and the BJP has 116. That makes 321. This alone is sufficient to pass the amendment in the Lok Sabha (271 votes). In the Rajya Sabha, the Congress has 70 members and the BJP 51 adding up to 121, which is almost half of the 250 strength of the Rajya Sabha. In addition to the UPA and NDA, the Left Parties are sure to support the amendment – and they together have about 21 MPs in the Lok Sabha and 19 in the Rajya Sabha. That should certainly see the amendment through. The amendment does not even need the support of the known opponents of the Lokpal bill – the Samajwadi Party, the BSP, the RLD etc. Why then is Team Anna feeling so diffident? Why do they see this as a Congress ploy to delay the Lokpal?
The only reason I can think of is that they are suspicious of the BJP. If the Congress itself is introducing the amendment, there is no doubt that the party will vote for it en-mass. In fact, such a proposal must have been discussed in the Cabinet and hence it is likely to be a UPA-endorsed amendment. The only way that the amendment will not go through is if the BJP decides to oppose it. Is this what Team Anna is really worried about? But then, the BJP has always been saying they support Anna and they support the Jan Lokpal Bill – at least in media. Besides, the RSS has openly been supporting Anna – much to the embarrassment of the BJP. Why would the BJP possibly not support the Constitutional amendment?
Does Team Anna know something than we dont? Are they feeling a little “overtaken” by the decision of the Congress to make it a Constitutional body? Had they not taken Rahul Gandhi’s plan seriously and so are a little “caught unawares” about this new development? Or is it that Team Anna and the BJP – long thought of as working together (though clandestinely) – are both feeling that the matter should not end so soon – two and a half years before the next elections in 2014? I had written in one of my posts earlier that it will surely be the Congress’s intention to end the Lokpal matter by introducing a suitable legislation soon, while it will be the BJP’s intention to drag the matter to as close to 2014 as possible. Is this why there is so much worry that this matter is being resolved so quickly?
By the way, we are not at all talking yet about the specifics of the proposal itself. That matter is totally different from the proposed status of the Lokpal (statutory or Constitutional body). That matter is being debated in the Standing Committee. Team Anna’s recent fret is not about what the Standing Committee may recommend. It’s about why the Congress wants it to be a Constitutional body. The question is that whatever the Standing Committee recommends – what decision will Parliament take? To make it into a Statute or a Constitutional Amendment?
Some of the respondents on my previous post on this subject have said that the Congress itself – most notably Pranab Mukherjee and Chidambaram – were opposed to any Constitutional Amendment to be made for the Lokpal Bill. And that they have started supporting the amendment only after Rahul Gandhi’s speech in Parliament. Maybe they are right. The Congress may have done a re-think given the damange potential that the Anna movement can have on them in the next elections. Maybe as a result of this fear, they have decided to prove their credentials even more clearly. We should welcome this decision – not debate why the Congress changed its tack. Maybe the Congress got really scared of Anna (though I doubt it). Even so, isn’t it great that they got scared and did even more than what Team Anna asked for? Why should we fret about what happened within the party? Should we be interested in the result or in the reasons why the Congress changed its decision?
Some other commentators have said that this was hardly Rahul Gandhi’s idea. It was actually TN Seshan’s idea. I have absolutely no problems with calling this the Seshan Amendment. Again, the focus should not be on whose idea it is – the focus should be on the amendment itself going through.
Some others have argued that the Lokpal should first be made into a statutory body and later converted into a Constitutional authority. When it is a statutory body, it can be amended so that its imperfections are removed. Well, my only answer is in the form of an observation. This has never been done before. Now I am not one to suggest that what has never been done before cannot be done in the future. It can surely be done. But the reality is that if the Lokpal – after being passed as a statute – were ever to be amended, then the amendments would surely be viewed as being politically motivated – to ease the pressure on the political class. Just look at the recent furore over the amendments sought to the RTI. Would any amendment to the Lokpal ever be possible at all? Also, do we believe that ten years later, the zeal and enthusiasm of the country on the Lokpal issue will continue? What if a devious government at that time silently makes changes to weaken the Lokpal Bill – it will raise no one’s hackles at that time. They say time is everything in politics. A few years later, the time may just not be right for a strong Lokpal. Anna has raised the tempo so much – let’s not waste this opportunity.
The real truth is that as the time comes for the winter session, more and more realities will be bared. Is the BJP really going to support the amendment? Which parties are going to support the amendment and which are not – the question that Team Anna keeps raising – will get answered. Rather than doubt everything the government does, let’s put them to a test. We will know very soon whether they were serious or just gassing….

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