Yesterday, the UPA government introduced the Lok Pal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011 and the Constitution (116th Amendment) Bill, 2011
After the minister introduced the bill, leader of opposition, Sushma Swaraj rose to speak. At around the 42nd minute, she was making some calculations needed for a constitutional amendment. This was in the context of 2/3rd of 50% total strength. She arrived at the figure of a minimum of 182 members have to agree.
Leader of the house, Pranab Mukherjee stood up at this point of time. At around the 43rd minute, he clarified that a minimum of 275 votes are needed for a constitutional bill to be passed. Minimum 275. Sushma Swaraj said she stands corrected and proceeded with her speech.
Let's quickly see what the rule book says.
Constitution Amendment Bills have to be passed in each House of Parliament by a special majority ie. by a majority of the total membership of that House and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of the House “present and voting”.
It effectively means that atleast 273 members have to support the bill, and on top of that 2/3rd of those who are present in the house should support the bill. Only then can the constitution be amended.
Now, let's see what happened at the end of the day, yesterday.
The Constitution amendment bill (116th Amendment), 2011 was put up for vote. 251 members voted for it. The official strength of the ruling coalition is 277. After some complicated mathematical operations, we see that 26 members of the ruling coalition were missing (in which there were congress MPs too!). This government could not get the minimum required support for passing this bill, and yet is going on the overdrive to blame the BJP for "not wanting a strong Lokpal".
Let's get into a few details in a short while. Before that, another important piece of information.
For the past 6-8 months, Lokpal and Lokayukta was the most debated bill everywhere. Normally reticent working class also took to streets demanding a strong lokpal (though they had no idea on the details). Government, led by Kapil Sibal, screamed on top of their voice saying "Parliament is supreme."
Yesterday, the Lokpal bill was passed by voice vote. Some members demanded "division of votes" for some of their amendments. The government's numbers were only in the range of 247-251. SP, BSP, AIADMK walked out of the house because they did not like the bill and their "demands were not met". Walking out meant that the government can get this through technically.
BJP, JD(U), SS, CPI, CPI(M) were outrightly opposing this Lokpal bill. We still don't know what TMC was thinking. Either way, a bill that captured the imagination of so many did not even have the support of 50% of the total strength of the house. Not even 273 members supported this bill - and we are witness to the headline today - "Lokpal bill passed".
And media screams - "History made".
Rhetorical arguments for congress is that "BJP is against Lokpal", "Opposition is against Lokpal". Wrong. They are against this version of the Lokpal.
Sonia Gandhi apparently said that:
BJP's asli chehra dekha hamne.this despite their commitment for constitutional status for #lokpal in standing committee
Sushma Swaraj in her speech yesterday said that the Standing committee explicitly said there should be no reservations in Lokpal. The Sonia Gandhi led government brings in this bogus of reservations in a constitutional body, and then when the opposition cries foul with this version, rhetoric flows and media laps it up? 50% reservation in a constitutional body? What next? Reservation in EC, CAG etc? Whom are we really fooling here?
Members from the opposition articulated their objections and reservations in good detail yesterday. They went into specifics as to why they were objecting to this version of the Lokpal bill. Subjects like minority reservations, federal structure ( here too, Kapil Sibal painted a picture that the opposition was against strong Lokayukta which was not the case!), composition, selection, removal, even age limit was discussed!
Meanwhile, what is this fuss about giving it a constitutional status? Primarily because this was Rahul Gandhi's "game changing" idea, the government lapped it up. From the limited discussion on twitter, looks like the only advantage of having such a status is that disbanding the institution will be difficult. Either way, this is purely mis-management by the Sonia Gandhi led government. Like Sushma Swaraj said, the government's aim seems to have been to bring some version of the bill, somehow get it passed and say "We passed the bill".
That's exactly what happened yesterday. This version of the Lokpal bill did not even get the "ayes" of 50% of the total strength of Lok Sabha. This rhetorical bluff of "opposition not supporting" is getting nauseating to hear.
Finally our media.
A division of votes is necessary to even introduce a constitutional amendment bill. Same voting rule applies here too. A minimum of 273 and 2/3rd of those present in the house will have to agree. Yesterday, 321 members agreed for the bill to be introduced in the house. Just for introduction. CNN-IBN journalist Pallavi Ghosh was thrilled.
Rahul's as desired constitutional amendment bill passed
Only to realise that the vote was just for introduction. Each clause of the bill had to be voted upon. And then the true numbers came out. And then she says:
Rahul's dream shattered: no constitutional status to lokpal..govt blames bjp..politics begins
Within the hour, the media went from bill passed to bill shattered. And the politics begins!