The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia shift on poll reforms

New Delhi, Aug. 27: Bowing to growing public opinion in favour of electoral reforms, Sonia Gandhi today distanced herself from the “all-party consensus” on defying the Supreme Court and the Election Commission and opposed the Ordinance on grounds that it was short of requirements like declaration of conviction and charges of offences, assets and liabilities by candidates.

The Congress president’s flip-flop comes a few days after President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam returned the electoral reforms Ordinance and the Vajpayee government sent it back unchanged, saying it was a product of consensus on the issue.

A few days ago, Congress spokesmen Abhishek Singhvi and Anand Sharma had backed the Ordinance on the consensus plea. Congress insiders said a shift in the party’s stand came after divergent views were expressed on the reforms.

While the conservative sections opposed “judicial activism”, wondering how a vexed issue involving moral, ethical and political dimensions like electoral reforms could be thrashed out in a hurry, the hawks prevailed upon Sonia, asking her to project the Congress as a pro-poll reforms party, committed to probity in public life.

Senior Congress leaders said Sonia decided to act in favour of the reforms with an eye on middle class sensibilities. Since taking over as the party chief, Sonia has been keen on weeding out corrupt and criminal elements from polity, they said. She took the lead by making the Congress an “all white” party, declaring that donations would accepted only through cheques.

In a rare press statement today, Sonia said: “(The) Congress party strongly opposes the Representation of Peoples’ Act (amendment) Ordinance by the NDA government as it falls far short of the requirements.”

She condemned the Vajpayee regime’s move to wilfully pass an Ordinance that defied the will of a vast majority of people, the letter and spirit of the Supreme Court ruling and the basic tenets of transparency and accountability in politics.

The Congress, Sonia claimed, was fully in concurrence with the orders of the apex court that candidates must disclose all relevant information called for, particularly regarding convictions and charges for offences, and assets, bank balance, liabilities and overdues.

Her party believes such information must be disclosed by all candidates prior to elections, she added.

Her party had clearly articulated its stand twice earlier, Sonia said, adding that she was distressed to find that large sections of media continued to club the Congress with other parties in projecting the impression that they were united in opposing the implementation of the Supreme Court order.

“This erroneous reporting has been further encouraged by the misleading statements issued from time to time by the NDA government and BJP functionaries,” she said.

Sonia said the Congress attaches great importance to poll reforms in the light of the Supreme Court order for disclosure of information by candidates, “but is in disagreement only with the direction of the Election Commission vesting returning officers with the powers to investigate the authenticity of the information given and reject nomination papers on grounds of incomplete information”.

The returning officers’ responsibility should be limited to ensuring that the declaration was made and displayed on the notice board, she said. “The establishment of the authenticity or completeness of declarations made by the candidates should be the prerogative of the appropriate courts of law,” the AICC chief said.

Sonia said if declarations made by a winning candidate were subsequently found to be false or incomplete, the election of such a candidate should become null and void. “The seat should be declared vacant and the candidate should be meted the punishment laid down under the existing laws for filing a false affidavit,” she said.

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