The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed the lokpal bill for a central corruption watchdog after a heated 11-hour debate and a walkout by some opposition parties – Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party, Laloo Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal and Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party.
However, a constitutional amendment bill that would have given the lokpal constitutional status failed, as the government failed to muster the required two-thirds majority. The lokpal will thus not be a constitutional body.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi accused the BJP of betrayal on this count. "The BJP had actually committed for constitutional status for the lokpal bill in the standing committee and yesterday they voted against it and denied constitutional status ... yesterday we have seen the real face of the BJP ... we wanted to give a solid Lokpal Bill but they refused."
An angry Pranab Mukherjee said in Parliament that the defeat was "a sad day for democracy", and warned the BJP, "The people will teach you a lesson."
The bill was passed after incorporating 10 amendments. Key among these is that appointment of state-level lokayuktas would need the consent of the states concerned; and inquiry against the prime minister would require the consent of two-thirds of the lokayukta members, against the three-fourths proposed. The armed forces will also be out of its purview.
However, the bill must still be passed by the Rajya Sabha to become law; and this could prove a serious hurdle as the government does not have a majority in the upper house and must hope to rope in opposition members.