|The political management skills of India’s Congress party-led national government will once again be put to test during the winter session of Parliament that begins Nov. 22.
Topping the government’s list of political items during the month-long session that ends Dec. 21 is what to do with the Jan Lokpal bill, or people’s version of an anti-graft Ombudsman Law, that is being pushed by Gandhian activist Anna Hazare. The bill would put in place new rules to remove corrupt officials.
The Jan Lokpal version differs significantly from the bill proposed by the government itself. The government’s version of the bill was slammed by civil society activists led by Mr. Hazare during the monsoon session in August this year. That, plus Mr. Hazare’s hunger fast to promote his version, seriously dented the popularity of the government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
M.R. Madhavan, the head of research at independent PRS Legislative Research in New Delhi said the passage of some Lokpal bill was “crucial” for the government.
If the government reneges on its promise to enact a law to create the ombudsman’s office, it would almost certainly lead to a resumption of protests of the sort that Delhi witnessed in the summer. But, assuming the government does push legislation, another important question is whether it will go far enough to satisfy Team Anna.
On Tuesday, Mr. Hazare, said in a letter to Mr. Singh that his team would start another hunger strike if the Lokpal Bill was not passed during the winter session.
Legislation on food security, which aims to provide food to India’s poorest, is also likely to be introduced during the session, Mr. Madhavan said. A panel of Indian ministers cleared the draft law this July.
The Land Acquisition Bill to address the concerns of farmers whose fields are purchased to promote industrial development, first introduced in the previous session in August, also is expected to come up for discussion.
The legislation, which is currently under a standing committee’s consideration, is important for the Congress party, especially ahead of next year’s assembly elections in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. There, the party’s general secretary Rahul Gandhi had earlier criticized the land acquisition policies of Chief Minister Kumari Mayawati.
In addition, some financial bills including the Direct Taxes Code – which is designed to reduce tax exemptions and lower tax rates — and a bill to regulate microfinance organizations in India are also expected to be introduced.
Rakhee Bakshi, media adviser to the Speaker of the lower house of Parliament, or Lok Sabha, said in an interview with India Real Time Tuesday that the winter session “will hopefully see some meaningful debate by Indian lawmakers” on an ambitious list of legislative proposals which were derailed during the previous monsoon session by an uproar over the issue of corruption.
Mr. Singh’s government has been grappling with a host of political concerns including, but by no means limited to, Mr. Hazare. It faces mounting pressure from lawmakers in southern India for a separate Telangana state to be carved out of Andhra Pradesh as well as a vocal opposition that for almost a year has successfully disrupted the workings of Parliament in protest against corruption.
In that vein, the chief opposition Bharatiya Janata Party is reportedly considering a no-confidence motion against the government.