Manmohan forfeits his right to continue in office
By Dr R Balashankar
It was a midnight murder of democracy. Unprecedented, unheard of in the annals of democracy. A defeat, a honest admission of not having the requisite number in the house to pass such a historic bill as the Lokpal would have been more honourable and face saving. Instead, here was the ignoble sight of an illegitimate, cowardly, arrogant and inept government falling on its face, robbed off its dignity.
The Manmohan Singh government has proved itself bereft of the moral right to rule, to continue in office, by running away from a voting in the Rajya Sabha on the crucial Lokpal Bill passed by the Lok Sabha on 27 December.
The most shameful aspect of the midnight drama in the Rajya Sabha was that when the entire Opposition and the nation were expecting the Prime Minister to at least stand up in the House and clarify the government position on the ill-fated Bill, true to form the Prime Minister was nowhere in action. In fact he did not utter a word. It was left to rambling, ineffective Parliamentary Affairs Ministers Narayana Swamy and Pawan Kumar Bansal to meekly submit that the government was neither in a position to extend the session nor address the 187-odd amendments on the bill submitted by both the opposition parties and the ruling party allies. The biggest humiliation any government could face in a democracy however paralysed is that it made a stealthy escape from a voting in the House on a motion it so pompously piloted and vowed to pass on a deadline.
The opposition has rightly demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister or his dismissal by the President.
More significantly it exposed the wide chasm within the ruling coalition ranks. Further, the government has got itself on a cleft stick as far as its commitment to fighting corruption and passing an effective Lokpal. With the unceremonious retreat the government made in the Rajya Sabha the fate of the Lokpal is in a limbo. Remember, the Parliament’s winter session was extended by three days solely to pass the Lokpal bill.
In a stellar performance, the Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley, eloquently commented that the government deliberately choreographed an impasse to run away from a voting which it was sure to lose. He buttressed the point soon after Pawan Bansal admitted to the inability of the government on the numerous amendments, by saying, “Sir, I am from the opposition, but I still speak for the majority of the House.” What he implied was the government has lost its majority in the house and that it has forfeited its right to rule.
Similar sentiments were expressed tellingly by the CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury also who stood up to assure that the opposition was willing to sit as long as it takes to go through the motion of voting on the amendments and the Bill. In fact, an hour before midnight, Sitaram Yechury had insisted on knowing from the government as to what it was intending to do. The government side kept its cards close to its chest. The suspense was kept up till the last moment, when the Rajya Sabha chairman M Ansari abruptly in the course of an intervention announced the singing of the national anthem indicating the end of the session. At the end of the anthem the chairman declared the house adjourned sine die to a stunned house, which suddenly broke into riotous slogan shouting demanding the resignation of the government. It was as good as the government was defeated on the floor of the house.
The biggest humiliation any government could face in a democracy however paralysed is that it made a stealthy escape from a voting in the House on a motion it so pompously piloted and vowed to pass on a deadline.
The entire nation was keenly tuned to the live televised proceeding on the Lokpal Bill the whole day. The government’s cheekiness was too brazen for comfort. The whole day it tried to put up a brave front, planting stories of some concessions, cajoling and arm-twisting of the allied partners to get the Bill through. It was somehow passed in the Lok Sabha a day earlier. In the Lok Sabha it had the numbers. Also helped by the strategic walkout by the SP, BSP and RJD, it managed a passage, though its effort to get a Constitutional status to the Bill was struck down.
In Rajya Sabha to begin with it was touch and go. It had no majority. But it could have manipulated one with proper consultation and floor management and making some amendments. The government misread its allies, their political compulsions and the adverse impact of the bill on the electoral prospects of its allies like BSP and SP in the poll bound Uttar Pradesh. It failed to fathom the electoral implication in UP that tied the BSP and SP in knots and the principled federalist concerns of Mamata Banerjee. As a past master in manufacturing numbers, the ruling party perhaps till the end tried to persuade its allies either to walkout or abstain and help the passage of the bill. It tried also to create deliberately, a chaotic situation in the House by provoking a couple of RJD members to create a ruckus in the house. But a determined, united opposition sure of its numbers and resolve to make changes in the Bill through their clause by clause amendments made the government bend. By the dot of twelve, it was clear for the government that it was cornered. And like all legendary clowns turned bullies the government realised its time was up and it chose to hide behind the adjournment. It could have acted a little more honourably. But alas, cronies seldom think of honourable exits. They hang on, rather limpet-like.