New Delhi, Oct. 3: Minutes of an August 13 all-party meeting show that every party, including the BJP, wanted the Centre to take measures to get around the Supreme Court judgment that said lawmakers would lose their seats automatically on conviction.
The BJP is now claiming it was equally opposed to the bill the Centre brought in to counter the judgment — and which it has now decided to withdraw — and to the equivalent ordinance that the government has already withdrawn.
But the minutes of the meeting, accessed by The Telegraph, show that those who asked the government to either seek a judicial review or bring in a bill to bypass the court order included Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj (both BJP), Sitaram Yechury (CPM), S.C. Mishra (Bahujan Samaj Party), Lalu Prasad (Rashtriya Janata Dal), Sharad Yadav (Janata Dal-United), Ram Gopal Yadav (Samajwadi Party), Gurudas Dasgupta (CPI), Sudip Bandyopadhyay (Trinamul) and Anant Geethe (Shiv Sena).
Only the Biju Janata Dal’s B. Mahtab disagreed with these leaders. However, he joined all the others in advocating a bill to bypass another apex court verdict — to debar jailed persons, whether convicts or undertrials, from contesting elections. That bill has been passed by Parliament.
With the Congress now citing the all-party meeting, Lok Sabha Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj tweeted today: “We opposed the Bill. We opposed the Ordinance. What Cong is spreading since morning is complete falsehood.”
The minutes show that Sushma had said at the August 13 meeting: “We must save the membership of the concerned member but he or she should not be allowed to take part in the proceedings or to vote.”
Yechury said: “I am interrupting only because I want Sushmaji’s and Arunji’s support for this. I think an amendment to the Representation of (the) People Act has to be brought in view of the judgment in order to ensure that this sort of injustice cannot be done. Arun Jaitley may probably tell us about the legal implications of it.”
Rajya Sabha Opposition leader Jaitley then advised the government: “If you have to nullify that judgment, then you will require a constitutional amendment or at least seek a review.”
Later, when the bill went to a standing committee and the government decided on an ordinance for the interim, the BJP approached the President and opposed the ordinance, describing it as amoral and unconstitutional.
The Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mishra too argued the need to get round the court judgment, saying that “90 per cent” of lower court verdicts are altered by the higher judiciary anyway and asking how “the injustice” to a lawmaker could be undone.
He cited the example of Kerala, where the conviction of a few MLAs can dislodge the government.
Shiv Sena’s Geethe said: “Whatever amendment you want to bring to nullify this can be brought.”
Lalu Prasad, who had a personal interest in such a bill, rued that some people took delight in the humiliation of others but warned that the anti-politician mood would one day destroy the parliamentary system of governance. The judgment has given the lower courts the power of the Supreme Court, he said.
He said “we will support your (the government’s) moves” but warned that he had seen some parties speak a different language outside.
The BJP described the Congress claim that the main Opposition had backed both the ordinance and the bill as a “campaign of disinformation launched by a beleaguered government”.
In a statement, Jaitley said that various proposals were discussed at the all-party meeting. “At the end of the discussion, the impression conveyed to us was that the government would finalise the proposal and refer the matter to a standing committee for formulation of opinion.”
He claimed the government was trying to give an impression that the BJP was “in full support” of the proposed law. “In fact, only various options were discussed,” he said.
Sushma went so far as to claim that the BJP’s “opposition” had forced the government to refer the bill to the standing committee. On the ordinance, her comment was: “Cabinet proposed, BJP opposed and Rahul disposed.”
Jaitley claimed he had opposed the idea of a constitutional amendment and later, he and Sushma had told law minister Kapil Sibal that they were against changes even to the Representation of the People Act.