Lokpal bill drowns in Rajya Sabha amid chaos

The much-awaited vote on the Lokpal bill fizzled out in the Rajya Sabha amid chaos at midnight Thursday as the house was adjourned sine die, leaving the government and opposition members at each other's throats and the anti-corruption legislation's future uncertain.

In unprecedented scenes, disorder enveloped the upper house towards the end of the day-long animated and stormy debate on the bill meant to combat the cancer of corruption. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alleged that the government had lost the moral right to govern.

"Any government which is running away from parliament does not have the right to govern the country," BJP veteran Arun Jaitley said in the house, just before a distraught Chairman Hamid Ansari adjourned the house.

Outside the parliament building, even as BJP MPs raised slogans against the government, Law Minister Salman Khurshid said the Lokpal bill was very much alive and would come up in parliament's February budget session.

The bill had been passed in the Lok Sabha two days ago.

The dramatic end to the proceedings capped an extended three-day session of parliament over a bill that was born after Anna Hazare unleashed an emotive crusade against corruption eight months ago with a five-day fast.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal argued that there was no way the government could have tackled the 187 amendments to the bill sponsored by the opposition.

Opposition leaders contested him, saying the government had created a situation so as to avoid a voting that it would surely have lost.

"A government which did not have the numbers in the house has consciously choreographed the entire debate in such a manner that it cannot be concluded today," Jaitley said in his final remarks before the house was adjourned.

Till late in the evening, Congress troubleshooters tried their best to win over its ally Trinamool Congress as well as the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) but they were adamant in their opposition to the bill's provisions infringing upon the autonomy of states.

By night, it became clear that the government's Lokpal bill, minus the amendments, would be defeated - like the way the move to give the proposed legislation constitutional status was voted down in the Lok Sabha.

The final hour of the proceedings was marked by uproar when an aggressive Minister of State V. Narayanasamy came up against opposition MPs shouting to know from Ansari how long the debate would go on.

Suddenly, Rashtriya Janata Dal's Rajniti Prasad barged towards the minister, snatched a copy of the Lokpal bill and tore it up.

An exasperated Ansari first adjourned the house for 15 minutes.

When the Rajya Sabha met again, disorder continued. Marxist Sitaram Yechury demanded to know how much time the government needed to tackle the amendments.

Bansal avoided a direct reply. And in the most clear signal that the government did not want the session to continue, he said that it was the government's prerogative to decide when the house can meet again.

Jaitley, who had kickstarted the debate Thursday morning, alleged that the "government is running away from this house because it is in a hopeless minority".

This triggered high-pitched shouting from Congress MPs.

Ansari said he had had enough.

As he began addressing members just after midnight, opposition MPs, sensing he might adjourn the house without taking a vote on the bill they were sure the government would lose, tried to shout him down.

"An unprecedented situation has arisen. There appears to be a desire to outshout each other," he said, triggering more din. This led him to plead with the MPs: "Let me finish, let me finish, let me...

"What ruling can I give in this noise? I am afraid I can't do anything if this is how Rajya Sabha is going to behave, then all of us can go home."

He then ordered the national song to be played, marking the abrupt closure of the extended winter session.

The opposition-government war continued outside the house. Amid slogan shouting, Jaitley accused the government of "subverting parliament". "The people of India will give it a fitting reply."

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