New Delhi, Sept. 26: President Pranab Mukherjee today sought clarifications from the government on the ordinance it has brought in to circumvent a Supreme Court order that automatically disqualified convicted lawmakers.
Law minister Kapil Sibal and home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde briefed him on the reasons for bringing in the ordinance but Rashtrapati Bhavan didn’t reveal if the President was unhappy with the government’s decision or what queries he had.
A delegation of BJP leaders had met the President earlier to request him not to sign the “unconstitutional, illegal and immoral” ordinance.
Lok Sabha leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj said Mukherjee had assured them he would take a decision only after examining it.
“When the bill is pending before the standing committee of the Rajya Sabha, how can the government bring an ordinance,” Arun Jaitley, Sushma’s counterpart in the upper House, said.
The BJP had initially supported the idea of overturning the court order but has opposed the ordinance route.
On July 10, the Supreme Court had ruled that any lawmaker stood disqualified the moment they were convicted of a range of specific offences. On Tuesday, the cabinet cleared the ordinance that restores the grace period to get a stay on the ruling. The move came days before the verdict is announced in a fodder scam case involving RJD chief Lalu Prasad.
Sources said the government had taken a considered view and there was no move yet to withdraw the ordinance. They said even the President, who is within his rights to seek an explanation, would not go beyond a point.
But there is unease within the Congress as party leaders understand that the legal nuances cannot be explained to ordinary people. Many of them fear the perception that the government was protecting convicted MPs would damage the party’s electoral prospects.
While general secretary Digvijaya Singh had yesterday said the better option was to evolve a political consensus, Milind Deora, one of the younger leaders, tweeted: “Legalities aside, allowing convicted MPs/MLAs to retain seats in the midst of an appeal can endanger already eroding public faith in democracy.”
But Congress sources insisted these were stray voices. “We understand what the common people feel but the government has the responsibility of seeing the larger picture and acting to protect the constitutional scheme. If there is a provision of appeal in a higher court, the final step of disqualification is not desirable. We have already taken away the privileges, including salary and voting rights, of a convicted MP,” a senior leader said.
Party spokesperson Raj Babbar said those who question the ordinance route should understand Parliament doesn’t run for months these days. “We hardly get time to discuss and pass bills. We were faced with a difficult situation as disqualification of MPs raises certain issues,” he said.
“What if a convicted MP is acquitted but his seat is already occupied by another by winning the election in the meantime? We will discuss these issues in Parliament.”