By night, Lokpal's fate was sealed

The Congress did not have majority support in the Rajya Sabha to pass the Lokpal bill but it hoped for a miracle. But as night fell Thursday, its troubleshooters realised the grim truth that the bill would not get past a belligerent opposition.

Through the day, as an animated and at times stormy debate raged in the packed upper house, there was intense speculation that the Congress might somehow -- just somehow -- cobble the numbers. By noon, intense backroom negotiations were on between Congress strategists and members of political parties who the government believed could be won over.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal did not want another embarrassment after the Tuesday fiasco in the Lok Sabha over moves to give the Lokpal constitutional status -- a Rahul Gandhi dream.

During the day Thursday, Mukherjee and Bansal met separately and together Satish Misra, the parliamentary face of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and Mukul Roy of the Trinamool Congress, an ally which has more than once tripped the Congress-led government in recent times.

IANS spotted Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad enter Mukherjee's office in parliament house along with Bansal at about 4 p.m. Leaning on confidence and hope, the Congress said that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, leader of the Rajya Sabha, would address the house, as he did in the Lok Sabha.

Nothing of that sort happened. As the evening gave way to a long night, Congress faces in the Central Hall of parliament bore disappointed looks. The writing on the wall seemed clear.

The Trinamool refused to give in on the issue of the bill's provisions which it argued infringed upon the rights of the states. To the acute discomfort of the Congress, the Trinamool won the immediate backing of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The BSP, whose leader and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati faces a slew of corruption charges, wanted the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) under the Lokpal's ambit and free of government control. The Samajwadi Party, whose Mulayam Singh Yadav conveniently walked out of the Lok Sabha ahead of the Lokpal bill voting, was not of much help.

In the end, the Congress realized that it did not have the numbers -- even if it were to count on the independents and those from the northeast on its side. Around 10 p.m., two hours before the three-day extended session of parliament was to end, it was announced to the shock of many that 20 more members were listed to speak.

On top of it, a whopping 187 amendments had come from opposition members. The Trinamool had submitted 37. Even if some amendments were to be clubbed, there would still have been at least 100 for voting -- a lengthy process that could have taken a few hours.

Many MPs voiced fears that the debate was being dragged on needlessly, so that at the stroke of midnight the Rajya Sabha would be adjourned. Some accused the Congress of preparing to use parties like RJD -- whose Lalu Prasad has moved closer to the Congress in recent times -- to foment trouble in the house.

It did happen that RJD's Rajniti Prasad, an otherwise inconspicuous member, suddenly dashed to Minister of State V. Narayanasamy's desk and tore up a copy of the Lokpal bill. As Lalu Prasad watched from the gallery, other RJD members began shouting in unison: "Lokpal, wapas lo, wapas lo!" (Take back Lokpal)

The otherwise aggressive Narayanasamy betrayed no anger when Rajniti Prasad snatched the document. But he adopted a hostile stand towards the opposition, provoking more din and anger. Amid the chaos, a distraught Chairman Hamid Ansari adjourned the house sine die, just after midnight.

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