The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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‘Shame’ label on rushed law

New Delhi, March 22: Amid cries of “shame, shame” from the Opposition, the government today abruptly ended the Parliament session to bring an ordinance to prevent an array of MPs, including Sonia Gandhi and Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, from being disqualified.

The ordinance will amend the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Act of 1959 to redefine an office of profit and ensure political heavyweights across parties are not disqualified like Jaya Bachchan.

Other than Sonia and Chatterjee, the Samajwadi Party’s Amar Singh, the BJP’s V.K. Malhotra and the CPM’s Mohammad Salim and Hannan Mollah face the threat.

After Jaya’s disqualification for holding an office of profit, similar complaints were lodged with the President against Sonia, Karan Singh and T. Subbirami Reddy, a minister, by the Telugu Desam and another against the Speaker and the two CPM members by Mamata Banerjee.

Although nearly all parties are affected and their leaders had been pressuring the government to change the law and redefine offices of profit, the Opposition pounced on the opportunity to attack Sonia.

Baki sab bahana hai, Sonia ko bachana hai (Rest are an excuse, they want to save Sonia),” it shouted in the Rajya Sabha.

Finalised yesterday, the ordinance is expected on Friday, exempting a new set of offices in addition to those already in the act from its purview.

The exemption will be with retrospective effect so that leaders such as Sonia and Chatterjee can escape the net. Sonia heads the National Advisory Council (NAC) and the complaint against Chatterjee is that as chairman of Bengal’s industrial development body in 1996-99, he had made “unauthorised” expenses on trips abroad.

Chatterjee refused to sit in the Speaker’s chair today because of the complaint.

Other than the NAC, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (headed by Karan Singh), state development and industrial councils, textile corporations, etc. will be exempted from the law.

It is likely that the ordinance may give Parliament the power to decide what to do with MPs who flout the law, instead of leaving it to the Election Commission and the President.

Complaints are now made to the President who refers them to the commission. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam is believed to have already forwarded some 40 complaints as a matter of routine.

The cabinet, which will meet tomorrow, is expected to ratify the ordinance and send it to the President for assent.

An Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance delegation that met Kalam raised questions about the ordinance, rather than the adjournment of Parliament till further notice, and was told that the President would take an appropriate decision when it reached him.

The cloak-and-dagger manner in which the decision was taken has triggered outrage in the Opposition.

Parliament was to have gone into recess during its budget session after today, but the sitting was ended.

If Parliament is in recess, the session is still alive and, therefore, an ordinance cannot be issued. The government would have had to move a bill to amend the act, a long-drawn process.

In the meantime, Sonia, the Speaker and the others might have been disqualified. With a precedent set with Jaya, a Samajwadi member, the President and the commission might have had little choice than to take the same step against the others.

That is why the sudden end to the session and the ordinance.

L.K. Advani, the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, described the adjournment as a “singularly unfortunate event in the history of Indian Parliament”.

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