Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley and fellow lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi of the Congress engaged in a verbal duel in the Upper House
Two days after it was passed in the Lok Sabha, the Lokpal bill was moved to the Rajya Sabha yesterday with the government trying hard to win the numbers game in a house where it is a minority and the opposition trashing the legislation as "constitutionally vulnerable".
The BJP-led opposition, represented by Arun Jaitley who initiated the debate, said the bill was weak but the house should not leave without "delivering a strong law".
War of words: Abhishek Singhvi said the government would have invited
Jaitley to help them gift a strong Lokpal as a "birthday present", however
BJP is parsimonious in giving birthday presents. File pics
The government's counter-charge was led by Abhishek Manu Singhvi of the Congress, the main brain behind the drafting of the bill. He accused the BJP of giving excuses not to pass the legislation.
Bahujan Samaj Party's Satish Chandra Mishra argued that the CBI shouldn't be under government control. CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury dubbed the present Lokpal bill weak and called for a stronger legislation to combat corruption.
The bill, providing for an anti-graft institution of an ombudsman at the central and state levels, will be put to vote after the debate.
My way or...
Stating that the bill would create "constitutional havoc", Jaitley opposed the minority quota in the Lokpal body and keeping the CBI out of its purview. He asked the government to accept the BJP's amendments if it wanted the bill to sail through.
Trashing the bill clause-by-clause, Jaitley said the "The provision that mandates states to create Lokayuktas on the model of the central government had "a grey area" that could lead to the Centre usurping the powers of states.
Say yes or no!
Singhvi rebutted the charges and asked what he termed was the "fundamental question", "Do you want to pass a Lokpal bill or not? If you don't want to pass the bill, say so. Have the courage of your convictions and don't hide behind excuses." Singhvi added the government would have invited Jaitley, an eminent lawyer, to "help gift us a strong Lokpal as a birthday present".
"But BJP is parsimonious in giving birthday presents. So don't do it for our sake but join us in passing a Lokpal bill for the sake of the nation. No use putting a string of conditions in your statements. No use saying I want to pass a strong effective bill after three months, after referring it again to a committee, after further discussions," Singhvi said.
"On process of the CBI and investigation, let's look at it seriously, not with the intent to ridicule. The CBI is 70-year-old organisation. Should birth of a Lokpal mean automatic destruction of every other institution? A 10-year-old CVC, a 70-year-old CBI?" the Congress leader said.
Bigger than PMO?
Singhvi said the BJP wanted to create "a behemoth of unimaginable proportions" in comparison to which the Prime Minister's Office would look like a "pygmy". He said, "You want one Lokpal, subsume the CVC and CBI under it, move Citizen's Charter under Lokpal, allow Lokpal suo moto power. Have prelim inquiry by Lokpal, actual investigation by Lokpal, prosecution by Lokpal. Thank God you did not say judgment must also come from Lokpal."
The BIG fight
Arun Jaitley (BJP)
If you are creating history, let us not create bad history. We will be leaving a lot of task for the next generation to do. Let us create an institution, which is constitutionally possible. Why are you creating a constitutional havoc? The government is trying to make constitutional cocktail.
Abhishek Singhvi (INC)
If you don't want to pass the bill, say so, and have the courage and don't hide behind excuses. Would have invited Jaitley to help gift us a strong Lokpal as a birthday present. But BJP is parsimonious in giving birthday presents. So don't do it for our sake but join us in passing a Lokpal bill for the sake of the nation.