Live Mint
New Delhi
New Delhi: Opposition to the government’s move to promulgate an ordinance to protect convicted parliamentarians and state legislators from immediate disqualification intensified on Thursday, with leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) meeting the President to request him not to sign it and a minister criticizing it.
Senior BJP leaders L.K. Advani and Sushma Swaraj met PresidentPranab Mukherjee in the evening and requested him to return the ordinance, which Swaraj described as “illegal, immoral and unconstitutional”.
“The government is trying to shield convicted MPs. We have asked the President not to sign the ordinance,” Swaraj said.
Advani said the move would dent the dignity of Parliament. “There will be two kinds of MPs in Parliament. One is elected and second is convicted,” he said.
On Tuesday, the Union cabinet signed off on the ordinance, which protects convicted members of Parliament and members of state legislatures from disqualification if their appeal against conviction is admitted by an higher court within three months.
The cabinet’s decision came after the Supreme Court on 5 September turned down a government appeal to review its 10 July verdict barring lawmakers from continuing in Parliament or state legislatures if convicted by a court for crimes punishable with imprisonment of two years or more. Milind Deora, Union minister of state for information technology and communications and member of Parliament from Mumbai South, voiced his opposition to the move. “Legalities aside allowing convicted MPs/MLAs 2 (to) retain seats in the midst of an appeal can endanger already eroding public faith in democracy,” Deora said on his official Twitter account.
On a defensive mode, the government noted that BJP had backed a unanimous decision taken at an all-party meeting ahead of Parliament’s monsoon session to amend the Representation of the People Act to undo the Supreme Court verdict, before changing its stance.
“They are entitled to change their mind but just because you change your mind, you should not say everybody should change their mind,” finance minister P. Chidambaram told reporters.
Taking the battle to the BJP camp, he cited the example of Gujarat minister Babubhai Bokhiria, convicted in a case of illegal mining, holding on to office by taking recourse to provisions of the Representation of the People Act that were struck down by the Supreme Court. The BJP is in power in Gujarat.
“He has been convicted for a period of three years. How is he holding office today and remaining minister?. By virtue of Section 8(4), as it tends to, that section has been struck down, so should not BJP feel pangs of conscience and ask him to step down,” he said.
“A BJP minister continuing to hold office after conviction even after section 8(4) is struck down—how can that be reconciled with their present position?” Bokhiria, Gujarat’s water resources and agriculture minister, was convicted on 15 June by a court in Porbandar. In July, he appealed against the verdict, which was stayed by a sessions court.
The President can endorse the ordinance, delay the process or return it to the government for a review. The government had approved the ordinance after failing to get a Bill to this effect cleared in Parliament during the monsoon session. The controversy over the ordinance has become the latest flashpoint between Congress and BJP, which are preparing for an electoral battle in five states, including politically crucial Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and the smaller states of Chhattisgarh and Mizoram.
Data compiled by the Association for Democratic Reforms, a think tank, show there are 161 MPs in the Lok Sabha who have a tainted track record, and 78 of them have serious charges against them. In the Delhi assembly, there are around 32 MLAs with criminal cases against them.
© Association for Democratic Reforms
Privacy And Terms Of Use
Donation Payment Method