Speaker says Jan Lokpal Bill not tabled in assembly

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gsr-A.KejriwalNew Delhi: Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi quit on Friday, just a day before what would have been its 50th day in power, and called for fresh elections to the state assembly.

The immediate trigger for the decision to resign was the defeat of a resolution to introduce the Jan Lokpal Bill in the assembly. Most analysts saw the resignation as a strategic move by the AAP to gain public sympathy and generate fresh momentum for itself ahead of the Lok Sabha election.

The administration of the state will now revert to the lieutenant governor (LG) of Delhi. It is not clear whether the LG will accept the outgoing chief minister’s recommendation. The constitution allows him to keep the assembly under suspended animation for six months, or call for fresh elections, or invite either the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) or the Congress to form a government.

“Today, when the Jan Lokpal Bill has fallen apart, our government is giving its resignation. We can sacrifice posts of 100 ministers for the Lokpal Bill. We will consider ourselves fortunate if we have to give our lives for this country,” Kejriwal told supporters at the party office in the national capital after a meeting of his cabinet.

The Jan Lokpal Bill is a key electoral promise of the AAP aimed at instituting an independent anti-corruption ombudsman to probe cases of graft. The resolution brought by the Kejriwal government to introduce the Bill was defeated 42-27 in the 70-member assembly.

In a clear bid to claim the political space occupied by those opposed to corruption, Kejriwal accused the Congress and the BJP of ganging up to prevent the AAP from putting in place the Jan Lokpal Bill it had authored.

The AAP, an offshoot of the anti-corruption movement led by activist Anna Hazare, made a spectacular debut in the Delhi elections in December but fell short of a majority, winning 28 seats. It was sworn into office on 28 December with the support of the eight legislators of the Congress party, which was routed after three successive terms in power in the city-state.

In its less than two months’ rule, the AAP made several populist announcements. It reduced electricity tariffs by 50% for households consuming up to 400 units of power a month and exempted households that have functional meters consuming up to 20 kilolitres of water per month from having to pay for it.

There were also more controversial decisions such as auditing of power companies and taking on Reliance Industries Ltd chairman Mukesh Ambaniand oil minister M. Veerappa Moily over the issue of gas pricing.

On Friday, Kejriwal claimed: “The BJP and the Congress colluded to not allow the Jan Lokpal Bill to be tabled. Why? This happened because three days ago we lodged an FIR (first information report) against Mukesh Ambani.”

Political analysts said that the resignation had been expected and that Kejriwal was ceding power in Delhi in order to concentrate on the Lok Sabha election due by April-May.

“Resigning on the issue of Jan Lokpal Bill is quite on the expected lines as he has been saying it for a long time. However, a lot will depend on whether the BJP is able to convey to the people that it was not against the Bill but the manner in which it was brought,” said Sanjay Kumar, a New Delhi-based political analyst said.

“A sizeable section of people would treat this as drama on the part of Kejriwal in trying to get out of Delhi and as an excuse to engage himself in the bigger battle of 2014. He would be more open to contesting the Lok Sabha election now,” he added.

Kumar also said that the AAP would ideally like to “paint the Congress and the BJP with the same brush” as being corrupt, and if it succeeds in doing so, it can reap political gains.

Kejriwal, who has not been able to concentrate on party activities after his swearing-in, will now be able to refocus his energies.

The AAP, which has opened nominations for candidates for the forthcoming Lok Sabha election, has already announced that it would target constituencies held by high-profile politicians including Rahul Gandhi , vice-president of the Congress party; Union ministers P. Chidambaram andSushil Kumar Shinde , also of the Congress; Samajwadi Party chiefMulayam Singh; former BJP president Nitin Gadkari; Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati; National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leaders M. Alagiri and A. Raja.

Earlier in the day, Congress and BJP legislators opposed the tabling of the Jan Lokpal Bill in the assembly, saying the manner in which the government was introducing it was “unconstitutional”.

Delhi assembly speaker Maninder Singh Dhir, who was informed in writing by Delhi LG Najeeb Jung to not allow the introduction of the Bill, said the draft law had not been tabled.

Kejriwal along with his party members had sought to introduce the Delhi Jan Lokpal Bill, 2014, in the assembly during the day amid vehement protests by Congress and BJP members.

“We have not got a copy of the Bill. We support the Jan Lokpal Bill, but I don’t think this government has got the right intentions,” legislator Arvinder Singh Lovely of the Congress party said.

“The Jan Lokpal Bill was not in the list of agenda yesterday (Thursday), then how did the Congress and the BJP create hurdles…as alleged by the AAP. They falsely allege that the BJP is not in the favour of the ombudsman, but our commitment for it is far more than them,” Harsh Vardhan, the state’s BJP chief, said.