Pranab raises query on ordinance

Last Updated 26 September 2013, 21:05 IST

An embarrassed Centre was on Thursday night scrambling to clarify questions raised by President Pranab Mukherjee on the Ordinance to overturn a Supreme Court judgment seeking immediate disqualification of lawmakers convicted by courts.

Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, Law Minister Kapil Sibal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath met Mukherjee on Thursday evening, shortly after a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) delegation urged him not to sign the Ordinance approved by the Union Cabinet on Tuesday.

Congress leaders and Union ministers defended the decision to promulgate an  Ordinance with Sibal contending that the government had done what the Supreme Court had desired.

BJP leaders L K Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley met the President with a plea that procedurally it was improper to bring an ordinance in a matter which is already pending before the Standing Committee of Parliament.

The opposition to the Ordinance was not only from the BJP but also from within the Congress with a section of leaders raising doubts over whether party chief Sonia Gandhi was kept in the loop over the measure to protect the convicted MPs, MLAs and MLCs.

A view within the Congress was that the party may find it difficult to explain the need of the ordinance, particularly at the time of elections to five states. They pointed out that the Congress had taken a high moral ground on taking action against party leaders Ashok Chavan and Suresh Kalmadi on allegations of corruption.

“Legalities aside, allowing convicted MPs/MLAs to retain seats in the midst of an appeal can endanger already eroding public faith in democracy,” said Union Minister Milind Deora, who is considered close to party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi.

On Wednesday, AICC General Secretary Digvijay Singh had favoured a consensus among political parties before going ahead with the promulgation of the ordinance.
Finance Minister P Chidambaram had a tough time justifying the need for the ordinance and claimed that all political parties had agreed on the measure when the bill was being introduced in the Rajya Sabha.

 Swaraj rejected Chidambaram’s claims and insisted parties had agreed to refer the Representation of People’s Act (Second Amendment and Validation) Bill to a parliamentary standing committee. “That a government can be pressured by the logic of the tainted speaks volume of the lack of integrity of this government,” Jaitley said in an article circulated to the media.

The Supreme Court in a July 10 judgment  stated that lawmakers convicted of crimes with punishment of two years or more face immediate disqualification.

The “immediate beneficiary” of the ordinance will be Congress MP Rashid Masood, who was convicted by the CBI court in a corruption case. The court is expected to pronounce the quantum of punishment next month. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a fodder scam case involving Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad on September 30.

The government move was also panned by many political parties including the Left parties, Janata Dal-United, Telugu Desam Party besides a section within the Congress.

Justice Rajinder Sachar, former chief justice of the Delhi High Court, said the Ordinance was a violation of the democratic system.
“It is quite obvious that they (the government) wanted to help somebody,” he said.

(Published 26 September 2013, 21:05 IST)

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