|Rasheed Masood (right) outside the Tis Hazari courts in New Delhi on Tuesday. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha
New Delhi, Oct. 1: As Rasheed Masood, inducted into the Congress by Rahul Gandhi and rewarded with a Rajya Sabha nomination, became the first MP who will lose his seat in line with a Supreme Court order disqualifying convicted legislators, politicians cutting across party lines chewed on the verdict.
Although no senior leader would speak on record in this hostile anti-politician season, the dominant view is that the order was unnecessary and that it was flawed.
However, following Rahul’s outburst, the Union cabinet is set to withdraw tomorrow the ordinance that would have overturned the verdict and allowed MPs time to appeal against a conviction. The Congress core committee, which had cleared the ordinance, is expected to meet before the cabinet does.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who returned to Delhi tonight, will call on President Pranab Mukherjee who too has several queries and objections to the ordinance.
A new complication arose today as Sharad Pawar’s NCP demanded that the ordinance issue be discussed at a UPA Coordination Committee meeting before it is reconsidered by the cabinet.
NCP spokesperson D.P. Tripathi told The Telegraph: “The government headed by Manmohan Singh is not a Congress government. It is a coalition government of the UPA. We are allies of the Congress, not followers of the Congress. We hope Rahul Gandhi understands this.”
Although it is unlikely that Pawar will create a scene given the public mood against the ordinance, Congress allies did not want to pass up the opportunity to remind Rahul that the cabinet system has its own sanctity.
One NCP leader said: “Rahul should have dealt with this issue within his party forums and the Congress minister too should have brought this ordinance only after taking political clearance. There is no gain making a public tamasha which gives the BJP a genuine reason to ridicule this government.”
The cabinet note prepared for tomorrow keeps all options open and says the government can await promulgation of the ordinance by the President or withdraw it or await the recommendation of the standing committee.
The note takes cognisance of the President’s reluctance to sign the ordinance and presents this, along with widespread criticism outside, as the reason for its reconsideration by the cabinet.
Sources said the note simply follows procedure — the cabinet cannot be seen to be taking a decision under duress — and that the Congress leadership is clear that the ordinance cannot be promulgated now come what may.
The note contests the perception that the decision to bring the ordinance was aimed at protecting criminals or convicted MPs. “Any reasonable reading of the ordinance cannot lead to this conclusion,” it says.
Many senior leaders believe the entire political class should have handled the situation created by the Supreme Court order with greater tact and maturity, and argue that the first disqualification gives reason to introspect.
Masood, a five-term Lok Sabha member and three-term Rajya Sabha member, has no criminal record and is widely seen as a gentleman. But he has been found guilty of misusing his office as junior health minister in 1990 to grant admission to a medical college to three ineligible students, including his nephew, from the central pool for Tripura. He was then a minister in the V.P. Singh government that was backed by the BJP.
Masood, who was earlier with the Lok Dal and the Samajwadi Party, was handed a four-year jail term for cheating, criminal conspiracy and forgery.
Since Lalu Prasad’s sentence will come later, Masood will be the first MP to be disqualified. A special invitee to the Congress Working Committee, the party’s highest body, he will also lose all the party positions despite widespread sympathy for him.
“I am innocent. Hundred per cent innocent,” he said today.
Although it is getting ready to withdraw the ordinance, the government remains convinced about the need to de-legislate the Supreme Court’s order at the earliest, possibly in the winter session. Some parties, such as the Left, had backed a law to overturn the Supreme Court verdict but were against taking the ordinance route.