Friday, March 24, 2006

Involuntary Sacrifice


The greatest after Mahatma? (*)

When is a “sacrifice” NOT a sacrifice?

For the Congress Party Chief, Sonia Gandhi, as political historians and analysts will note, the difference of just one day has snatched away from her, the credit of making a real sacrifice and placed her action of resigning the membership of Lok Sabha and the National Advisory Council in quite another category.

As the events related to the “office of profit” issue unfolded in the last few weeks and days, it was clear to all but the naive that the Congress mis-managers in the Government were desperately trying to save their Madame-Chief from the possible ignominy even of being sent a notice from the Election Commission examining a complaint that she was holding an "office of profit" and, therefore, liable to be declared ‘disqualified’ as a Lok Sabha member.

As highlighted in the earlier article, the panic driven game-plan of introducing an Ordinance was very much there and the sudden adjournment of both the Houses sine die could not be explained in any other way. It was a shameful display of subversion of the Constitutional process and was bound to result in the strong reactions from the Opposition reaching up to the high office of the President of India.

Attempts have been made not only by the Congress Party but also Sonia Gandhi herself, to project the Opposition as the culprit. Her statement showing righteous indignation and hurt can fool only the simple folk who are prone to get carried away. Although some inspired news items seemed to suggest that she was not aware of the Ordinance plan being hatched, it is completely unlikely for the President of a party not to be in the know of what was happening. The hare-brained plan went awry.

What option did she have then in the background of the decision in Jaya Bachchan’s case, the representation and the memorandum submitted by the opposition to the President? Her only option then was to do what she did. There was nothing to prevent her from choosing this option earlier in the first place. Getting re-elected to Lok Sabha would not have been a problem and a proper amendment to the 1959 Act, rather than an Ordinance, would have ensured that she could return as the Chairperson of the NAC. At the same time, she could certainly have claimed a moral high ground and scored some points. However, she announced her resignation only when the original game plan failed. THIS delay of just one day shows her action for what it is – a fake attempt to win sympathy and earn praise for her "selflessness".

True to the Congress culture and character, sycophancy has taken over and the party is once again trying to portray her as the paragon of virtue.

Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the Opposition that was DEMANDING her resignation was taken aback when she did resign. Surprisingly, the most vociferous opposition party, BJP was reported to be surprised by this turn of events. A party that wants to come to power again, should have anticipated all possibilities and should have been prepared for just such an action. Anyway, what is important now is the aftermath of this supposedly minor technical issue of “office of profit” and where it will lead the country’s parliamentary democracy.

Issues that arise

There are certain important issues that arise from the situation as it has emerged.

The first and foremost is the question of what would happen to the complaints that have already been received by the Election Commission about various MPs including Sonia Gandhi. As a disqualification would have to mean disqualification from the day the member of the legislative accepted an “office of profit”, it appears that the complaints would HAVE to be decided regardless of whether the person has resigned in the meantime. If the complaint were not decided, it would mean that a member could avoid the consequences of a disqualification from an earlier date merely by resigning. IF the complaints are pursued to their logical conclusion, there could be a remote and extremely thin possibility that by some extraordinary luck, Sonia Gandhi’s position in NAC would be deemed not to be “office of profit”. It would indeed be a resounding slap on the face of the opposition if that eventuality, howsoever unlikely, materializes. If, on the other hand, the Election Commission concludes, going by Bachchan case, that Sonia Gandhi too was holding an “office of profit”, it would provide scope for more political games.

However, the Congress party is unlikely to take a chance and considering that even many members of the opposition as well as the Left parties face a similar predicament, a way will be found to amend the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Act, 1959. (see here) It also remains to be seen whether an amendment by way of additions to the exempted positions list having retrospective effect would be valid.

This brings to the fore the second important issue that is more relevant for the people of India, if not for the political parties. The Constitutional provisions on “office of profit” were made after due deliberations and keeping in mind the need to ensure that the representatives of the people worked without any conflict of interest. The was not just made for the sake of it or, as some reports say, as a relic of the British past. They are there for a purpose and to keep on adding to the exempted positions list under the Schedule will be making a mockery of the noble and value-based polity that the Constitution makers had tried to build. The sanctity and seriousness with which Article 102 (1) (a) is looked upon even until now, can be clearly seen from the deliberations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Offices of Profit (14th Lok Sabha). The Committee, headed by Chandra Bhushan Singh of Samajwadi Party, while considering the appointment of Dr. Kasturirangan, an eminent scientist as Hon. Advisor in the Dept. of Space/ISRO and part time member of the Space Commission concluded that both these positions were “office of profit” and Dr. Kasturirangan could be appointed only by amending the Schedule to the 1959 Act. These conclusions were presented to both the houses just three months back, in December 2005. It is interesting to read the full contents of this Report, which shows the perspective of the Parliament with regard to "office of profit" hitherto. (see here)

When the appointment of an eminent scientist whose services are found invaluable for the country’s progress in the frontiers of science was not found acceptable, it begs the question whether the concept of disqualification envisaged in the Constitution should be allowed to be frustrated for the sake of saving politicians. In fact, it is quite surprising that most of the parties seem to have merrily ignored the provisions of Articles 102 and 192 in this regard, secure in the belief that they could do so as other parties were also sailing in the same boat.

It is, therefore, clear that this is a vital issue that directly concerns the people, even if the political parties feel comfortable in a situation where the members can remain members of parliament/state legislature while holding other offices of profit. To respond to the present situation by simply expanding the list of exempted positions or by introducing a convenient and flexible definition of “office of profit” would be clearly unacceptable.

It remains to be seen which of the political parties have the morality to realise what is 'the right thing to do' and do it.

(*) Postscript consequent to a comment in another blog:
These words of praise were showered by a Congress person on a TV Channel.
---Lok-adhikar, 25.3.06


At March 24, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good analysis!

At March 24, 2006, Anonymous Kishu Lalwani said...

Some people are trying to show that this was a brilliant masterstroke.

Nothing of that sort. It is just desperate attempt by her to somehow save face. It is ridiculous for her sycophants to suggest that this was a well thought out move!!!!

Any confusion her action has created in the opposition is purely incidental and unintended.

At March 24, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Lok-adhikar,
We spotted it and corrected it with an update in India Blog Watch.
The analysis in your post is excellent. Keep up the good work.

At March 25, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a bigger mess than any other mess that Congress made in the past.

At March 25, 2006, Blogger Red said...

I don’t get this ordinance to SAVE HER deal. Firstly, ordinances are only valid as long as parliament is not in session. Once it comes back into session the ordinance has to be validated by both houses. Secondly, the ordinance would have saved everyone’s skin. Finally, the law is going to be passed anyway, Sonia is one of the few M.P’s confident of being reelected. Even Manmohan Singh can’t be that assured.

At March 25, 2006, Anonymous Sujata.b said...

Response to Red:
1. The purpose of the Ordinance was to take immediate action primarily to save her. It would have to be passed eventually by Parliament but sufficient time would be avaialble to garner support.

2. It does not mean that 'everyone' would be automatically saved. The drafting of the amendment would determine who will be saved. As said in above article, some others would also have been saved because obviously the Ordinance could not have been meant solely for Sonia. But the benefit to others would be incidental.

3. In any case, the idea of the Ordinance was illconceived in the first place, because there are other issues as well which will arise because a complaint has already been made to the President of India.

4. The question is not merely of her being re-elected. The question is of holding OFFICE OF PROFIT while being an MP.Unless the law is amended, Sonia cannot occupy an office of profit unless it is already covered in the exempted list.


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