Narendra Modi govt pushes anti-graft Bills ahead of trust vote

On the eve of the no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha, the Narendra Modi government on Thursday built a narrative to showcase its efforts at curbing corruption, while the Opposition tried to punch holes in its claims.

Aware that opposition parties would demand answers on the government’s purported failure on the anti-corruption front — a plank that helped the Modi-lead Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sweep the 2014 elections — the government successfully pushed the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill through the Lok Sabha, while the Rajya Sabha passed a Bill that seeks to amend the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.

After criticism that it was attempting to dilute the Right to Information Act, including from Congress president Rahul Gandhi who said the amendments would make the law "useless", the government deferred its introduction in the Rajya Sabha at the last minute on Thursday.

Outside Parliament, the Central Bureau of Investigation filed a charge sheet against senior Congress leader P Chidambaram and son Karti in the Aircel-Maxis case. Leader of Congress in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge wrote to the PM, saying he would not attend a meeting of the selection committee for appointment of Lokpal till the time the leader of the single-largest opposition party was accorded a full-fledged member of the panel. The meeting was scheduled for Thursday evening.

If BJP leaders reached out to friendly parties to shore up the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) numbers for Friday’s no-confidence motion, the Congress and other opposition parties spoke to the leadership of some of the regional parties which have until now remained fence-sitters.

BJP president Amit Shah phoned Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and received an assurance that Sena’s 18 MPs in the Lok Sabha would vote with the BJP to defeat the no-confidence motion. 

BJP leaders have also contacted the AIADMK, Telangana Rashtra Samiti and others smaller parties which they believe might vote in favour of the government. However, these parties are either likely to abstain or stage a walkout.

Congress sources said they had also tried to convince Biju Janata Dal and some other parties to vote in support of the no-confidence motion. "It is not only a question of numbers. We will use the occasion to show the mirror to the government," Congress leader Anand Sharma said. The Congress and other opposition parties were mulling whether they should sit in the House for the voting or stage a walkout just before the voting. A final decision has yet to be taken on this.

During a discussion in the Rajya Sabha on the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013, Sharma asked why the Modi government was yet to appoint anti-graft ombudsman Lokpal. Opposition members pointed out that the Modi government’s record on enacting anti-corruption laws was poor.

Congress leader Digvijaya Singh said in the Rajya Sabha that the Mahabharat going on in the CBI needed to be stopped. He also referred to the Rafale fighter jet deal, and said the government did not follow any protocol while signing an agreement with France and was also not disclosing the price of fighter jets to be purchased.

While the Congress and other opposition members said the amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act were aimed at diluting the law, they supported its passage fearing that the PM would use their opposing it as an argument against them in his speech on the no-confidence motion on Friday.

Congress leaders said the Modi government is misusing probe agencies to target opposition leaders. Opposition parties have asked the Telugu Desam Party, which will initiate the no-confidence motion debate, to not just put forth its main demand of special status to Andhra Pradesh, but also raise other issues, including lynching and farm distress.

"The question is not about winning or losing. The government is deliberately trying to divert people's attention by saying the Opposition would lose the vote. They want to show that since the Opposition is losing, the issues they are discussing are of no use. That is certainly not the matter. The government is accountable to people and must give answers to the questions raised by the Opposition," Communist Party of India (Marxist) Lok Sabha member Mohammed Salim said. The BJD said it will let its stand on the no-confidence motion known on Friday. Disgruntled BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha said he would vote with his party on the motion.

In the Lok Sabha Home Minister Rajnath Singh condemned the recent incidents of mob lynching and said it has advised the states to take stringent action against the culprits and asked social media service providers to install checks to stop spread of rumours and fake news. Opposition members in the Lok Sabha raised slogans against Civil Aviation Minister Jayant Sinha for garlanding men convicted of lynching a meat trader in Jharkhand. As soon as the minister rose to respond to a question on upgradation of airports during the Question Hour, opposition members started raising slogans.