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Centre stifles President protest

New Delhi, Aug. 24: Overruling all his objections to the electoral reforms Ordinance, the Centre today politely but firmly asked President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to sign on the dotted line.

The Union Cabinet met to take stock of the “issues raised” by Kalam and decided to send the Representation of People’s Act (Amendment) Ordinance, 2002, back to him. An official spokesman said that “in the backdrop of a political consensus”, the President had been “requested” to clear it. He is now left with little option but to give his assent.

The Supreme Court had in March directed the government and the Election Commission to bring in a series of reforms to the Representation of People’s Act, of which three guidelines became contentious:

n A candidate would have to declare his criminal record while filing his nomination;

n He would have to declare his assets and liabilities, including those of his spouse and dependents;

n He would have to make his educational qualifications public.

Kalam is believed to have asked the government what the legal implications of these directives were and why they should not be implemented. Two all-party meetings had earlier decided to junk them.

After the first all-party meeting in July, the government brought in provision Section 8-B in the amendments, under which a candidate would be disqualified from contesting if two heinous crimes were registered against his name. But the second meeting deleted this clause also. Practically all parties claimed that any chief minister could register two such cases against his rival and disqualify him.

The amendment Bill was poised for introduction in the monsoon session, which was abruptly ended due to the petrol pump scam. This necessitated the promulgation of an Ordinance by the President.

The government today fielded principal information officer N.J. Krishna to brief reporters instead of the Cabinet’s authorised spokesperson Sushma Swaraj.

Asked if Kalam had “returned” the Ordinance, Krishna said: “Watch my words... I am only telling you the Cabinet considered the issues raised by the President.”

President Giani Zail Singh had sent back the postal Ordinance when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister. Though it has been officially stated that Kalam “raised certain issues”, he, too, had virtually returned the Ordinance.

Krishna said attorney-general Soli J. Sorabjee and additional solicitor-general Mukul Rohatgi were present at today’s Cabinet meeting to “assist legally”. Soon after, Sorabjee made a “courtesy call” on Kalam.

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