People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 03

January 15, 2012


Lokpal Issue: Democracy Assaulted at Midnight


                                                                                                      Moinul Hassan


THE Indian people were not ready for such an incident at the end of the last year. The incident which took place at the upper house of the Indian parliament, the Rajya Sabha, bears testimony to the murder of parliamentary democracy at the hands of the ruling classes of the country --- a black spot in the history of our parliamentary democracy.




It was a decision that the winter session of both houses of Indian parliament would come to an end on December 22, 2011. The prime minister had in August 2011 given a word to social worker Anna Hazare that the Lokpal will be passed in the winter session and accordingly a law would be enacted. The Left and others had always demanded a strong and effective Lokpal. The first two weeks of the winter session was without any work. The government was adamant in pressing with FDI in retail which was not only opposed by parties in the opposition but also by their own allies. The government succumbed to the pressure after two weeks and normal proceedings of the parliament started henceforth. Passing the Lokpal was a big challenge and prime minister, while abroad, came up with the statement that his ministers were working day and night for the bill. In between, the report of the standing committee has come and we on behalf of our party had registered our dissents and made our points regarding the bill.


An all-party meeting was organised a number of times, which the prime minister or finance minister presided. There were complexities but it was resolved that the bill placed during the monsoon session would be withdrawn and a new bill introduced in Lok Sabha. The days were becoming numbered. It was evident that in spite of working day and night, the government was not in a position to bring the Lokpal Bill. Without increasing the tenure of the session, it was an impossible task. It was difficult because the Christmas celebrations and the year-end were nearby. Many members, particularly from the north east and Kerala, would have faced difficulties in coming back to parliament after attending the Christmas celebrations. But still all agreed and it was decided that the parliament was going to meet again on December 27, 28 and 29 for the passage of the Lokpal Bill.


The bill was placed in Lok Sabha on December 23. Intense debate arose because the recommendations of the standing committee did not feature in the bill. There was nothing in the bill regarding the representations of SC, ST, minorities, women, other backward communities in the nine members Lokpal committee. The government came up with amendments during the discussion, which were opposed by the BJP. The government was in a complete chaos and ultimately the old bill was replaced by a new one. Discussions started on December 27. In order to give it a constitutional mandate, 116th constitutional amendment was introduced, but that was defeated.  A number of Congress MPs were absent during voting. The Congress actually has no ground to blame others when its own members were not present in the house. More than a hundred amendments on the bill brought by the opposition were rejected. The bill was passed in the Lok Sabha and it was supposed to be discussed in Rajya Sabha next day but in reality it did not happen. The government said that as the president was in Hyderabad, the bill could not be signed by her. A bill cannot come without the signature of the president. This is a well known fact and the government was very well aware of the fact but still arrangements were not made by the government.


We members of parliament were informed that by the afternoon the bill would come to Rajya Sabha. We have given amendments according to the old bill. We got the amended bill at one o’clock in the afternoon and we, on behalf of the Left, submitted our amendments within an hour. Other parties too then submitted their amendments; the last amendments were filed around 6 pm by the Trinamul Congress. The government in the meantime said that they want to discuss another bill instead of the Lokpal as the prime minister had other important assignments. We did not agree as discussing the Lokpal was the demand of the country. If we had started discussing other bills, it would have sent a wrong message to the people. Eight hours were allotted for discussion but the government said ultimately that the discussion would start the day after. What happened in the discussion on December 29, everybody knows. I am not going into that its details here. The chairman abruptly stopped the session at two past twelve in the midnight. The Congress basically fled at midnight, avoiding a vote in the house. It is necessary to discuss here the questions that arose regarding the abrupt ending of the session.




There were many small sections which could be opposed. But the Left opposed four basic points. Out of these four, the first three were opposed by other political parties too. But the last point was opposed by the Left only. The first point was about the appointment and expulsion of the Lokpal. The responsibility for this was to vest in the government but no one wants the government’s control over Lokpal. Second, the CBI must be brought under the Lokpal’s jurisdiction. The people in government have used the CBI in a naked manner. The organisation has almost lost its independence. The CBI has been misused against political persons and parties even to muster a majority in parliament. The third point is regarding the formation of Lokayuktas at the state level. Our constitution categorically delineated the power of the centre and the states. The central governments have always been diligent in curbing the powers of the states. In case of the Lokayuktas’ formation, the bill did not specify its structure. When the all party meeting discussed the matter, the government agreed to keep the matter open but in reality it was not done.


Fourth, the corporates need to be brought under the purview of the Lokpal. One of the prime reasons behind the much talked about corruption is the nexus between the corporates and political parties. The corporates have been continuously supplying money to a majority of the political parties. We of the Left feel that there has to be a check on the “supply line,” so to say. So we demanded coverage of the corporates within the purview of the Lokpal, to which the BJP is normally opposed as per its class character. The BJP also opposed the representation of minorities in the Lokpal on the ground that the constitutional mandate does not allow it. We were opposed to BJP’s idea. Although there were differences on these grounds, the opposition had consensus on the first three points.




The Trinamul Congress (TMC) has no consistency. When its members spoke in Lok Sabha, they termed the bill as great. They nodded in the cabinet when the bill was discussed, though now under pressure they are denying it. No utterances were heard from them in the all-party meeting. After the discussion they participated in a dinner and came out praising the prime minister. They even told the press that the speaker was much impressed with the speech of their “lawyer” leader in Lok Sabha.


But in Rajya Sabha they suddenly had a different view. Actually no one of them had gone through the bill. In the upper house, TMC came up with amendments! The speaker from the party confined his speech to quoting different lawyers and experts, while they spoke in front of the standing committee regarding the rights and power of the states. This speaker was himself a member of the standing committee but did not mention his party’s role in the standing committee. He in fact has nothing to mention as he and his party supported the bill in the committee. Even some members of the Congress submitted their objections to the standing committee. The TMC actually had no opinion.


But ultimately, in spite of the whole day’s hard work, the Congress was unable to manage the TMC. No packages came into work and the ‘minority government” lost more numbers though the support of TMC would not have made any changes as far as majority was concerned. In fact, the Congress was buying time, which too is a dangerous trend in a parliamentary democracy.




The question is: why the session abruptly ended at midnight? The answer is simple. The Congress led government wanted it. They came up with the justification that there would have been a constitutional crisis if the parliament had continued after midnight. They proffered the reason that the session had been convened only for three days and that the president’s permission is necessary in order to convene it again. Next, they pointed out that the 187 amendments needed time for the government to go through them. They even went to the extent of telling that moving so many amendments meant that the opposition was not in a mood to pass the bill. Thirdly, they said the parliament could not be convened as the first session of the year is supposed to commence with the presidential address in front of a joint session of the two houses.


All these justifications and arguments furnished by the government are far from the truth. The Rajya Sabha has continued after the midnight a number of times. On May 8, 1986, the house continued up to 1.52 a m. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) was passed on that day. October 13, 1989 witnessed the house sitting up to 12.31 a m in order to pass the 64th and 65th constitutional amendments. Records say on September 17, 1981 the house continued up to 4.43 in the morning in order to pass the ESMA. The only difference was that on all the previous occasions the government wished the house to continue, and so it did. Thus it is clear that the main obstacle and hindrance regarding passage of the Lokpal Bill came from none other than the government itself.


In order to convene the parliament, the permission of the president is definitely mandatory but that happens in accordance with the decision of the cabinet. But when the parliament is in session there is no need of the president’s permission for extending its dates. The chairman, in consultation with all political groups, is entitled to extend it. Such a thing happened in this very session too and the session was extended first for one day and then for three days. But it cannot happen only on the demand of the opposition; the government has to agree to it, This was precisely what did not happen this time. The house was adjourned for 15 minutes at 11.30 p m and at that point of time the Congress made it very clear that it won’t allow the session to be extended.


The right to bring amendments is vested in the members. It cannot be dependent upon the will of the government. Amendments are no hindrance to passage of a bill; after all the Lok Sabha had passed the bill even when more than a hundred amendments were moved. So the reason of citing 187 amendments as a hindrance to the passage of the bill is a farcical one. What happened to the assurance of the prime minister about his ministers working day in and day out for the passage of the bill? If we carefully look into the amendments, we can see that many were duplications in different languages and styles. There were actually 10 to 12 amendments as many members have given in effect similar amendments. The opposition sincerely wanted to arm the Lokpal and it was the government that presented itself as the main obstacle. Now they are coming up with baseless reasons in order to prove their point. We cannot believe that the law ministry of the government is so incapable that it cannot handle 10 to 12 amendments in one and a half days.


The opposition had made it clear that time was no obstacle to passage of the bill; they had categorically pointed out that the session might continue till the bill was passed. They even came up with the proposal of convening a special session in January for the passage of the Lokpal Bill because they felt that the question of anti-corruption measures was extremely important. But the Congress was arrogant about its stand. It lacked political will also. In 2004 the session was convened at the end of January; it continued up to the first week of February and then the parliament was dissolved. So the argument that the session could not start without the presidential address to both houses together did not hold good. Some went to the court challenging the incident. The Supreme Court, in its verdict in 2010 in this regard, recorded the incident to be constitutionally valid. So the government could have used that provision to convene the parliament in January. There was a motive to show the country that the Lokpal Bill could not be enacted due to the opposition. The tradition of the Congress culture of befooling the people continues.




What could have happened? Everyone knows that the government did not have a majority in Rajya Sabha. The government could have been less rigid and more humble. But it was not so. The attitude of the government in Lok Sabha made it clear that it would continue with its rigid attitude. It played the trick of placing a weak bill which it knew the opposition won’t allow to get passed. It thus planned to shift the blame on to the opposition’s shoulders. Many such heinous plots have always been the brainchilds of the Congress.


In fact, if the government had had an open mind, it could have accepted the amendments of the opposition. But that too did not happen. Or the bill could have been sent to a select committee which could have been formed by the parliament unanimously. But the Congress refused to adopt that line.


Or else, the discussion and the voting process could have been completed and then the government could have announced that the bill will go to a joint session, which was done earlier in the case of the POTA and the Hindu Code. All these were constitutionally valid measures. Instead of these, however, the government forced adjournment of the session at midnight. Independent India has not witnessed such a shameless act.


The people are suffering intensely from the burns of the policy measures of the Congress government. In addition to these, the ruling Congress assaulted our hard earned democracy in the parliament at midnight. Now it is for the working people to come forward to defend democracy from such assaults. On its part, the Left will always be in the forefront of this fight --- whether in the parliament or in the roads.