The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Exit Sonia and enter bill brigade
Coming soon: session on office of profit

New Delhi, March 24: Sonia Gandhi’s resignation out of the way, the steam was building up today for a bill to save members of Parliament from being disqualified for holding “offices of profit”.

Some 40 MPs are in danger of losing their membership, like Samajwadi Party’s Jaya Bachchan, if the law is not quickly amended redefining what constitutes offices of profit.

Under attack from the Opposition, which had alleged a government conspiracy to bring a save-Sonia ordinance by ending the Parliament session, she resigned yesterday from her Lok Sabha membership and the post of chairperson of the National Advisory Council (NAC).

Moved by her gesture, as Congress supporters turned the ground outside 10 Janpath into tyaag bhoomi, the BJP and the Left called for Parliament to be reconvened.

The CPM has taken a more active role in changing the law as it asserted that neither Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, against whom a complaint has been made for holding an office of profit, nor any other party MP in a similar position will resign.

Its politburo asked the government to quickly consult all parties and bring an amendment bill.

The party said Sonia’s post at the NAC was not an office of profit. “MPs have to discharge various public responsibilities by holding such positions.”

Taking such a position is not going to be easy for the BJP, though about half a dozen of its MPs are facing disqualification and though it rushed through a bill in the Jharkhand Assembly to protect its MLAs against stormy Opposition protests.

It, too, wants the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Act, 1959, to be amended, but cannot go on an overdrive asking for a Parliament session to do that for fear of being accused of simply running a vendetta against Sonia.

It did ask for reconvening Parliament and sought to distance the need for an amendment from its opposition to the government decision to adjourn the Houses sine die on Wednesday.

General secretary Arun Jaitley said: “The government has to state its position and bring in a bill. We will react after the government brings in a bill.”

Parliament can be reconvened even at a day’s notice since the budget session is still alive because sine die adjournment has not been followed by prorogation (See chart).

Sources said after May 10, once the Assembly elections are over, the Houses could meet to change the office of profit law.

A section of the Congress believes that having reclaimed the moral high ground with Sonia’s resignation, it might not mind keeping the BJP waiting until it is compelled to request a session to carry out the amendment.

That may not work because of the danger of the Speaker being disqualified.

Kapila Vatsyayan, on the hit list, resigned today but Sonia instructed other Congress MPs, facing possible complaints of holding an office of profit, to stay put.

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