What was the tearing hurry for the UPA cabinet to issue an ordinance to overturn a Supreme Court order for the immediate disqualification of MPs convicted for two years or more?
Political observers in Delhi smell a rat and believe the timing is meant to benefit a key Congress ally, Lalu Prasad Yadav, in whose case a verdict is due on 30 September. More so, since the Congress had earlier agreed to send the proposed changes to a standing committee of parliament.
According to sources, the President's office will at any moment receive the Union Cabinet recommendation to issue an ordinance to overturn the Supreme Court order verdict.
This is not the first time the UPA has seemingly acted with the intention of helping Lalu out.
On an earlier occasion, it got the president to sign an ordinance to dissolve a newly elected Bihar legislative assembly in May 2005 after Lalu and his chief minister wife Rabri Devi were about to be dislodged from power after 15 years in power.
The then President APJ Abdul Kalam signed a constitutional instrument to invoke the emergency provisions of Article 356 to dissolve the Bihar assembly on the recommendations of the union cabinet headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The UPA-1 government, in which Lalu was Railway Minister, was in such a tearing hurry that it did not even care that President Kalam was in the national Capital to sign that notification.
The President then was on a official tour to Moscow and was faxed the Cabinet’s recommendations late on Sunday, 22 May 2005 and the machinery of Union Government functioned in such a way that it got back the duly signed Presidential decree to dissolve the Bihar assembly early on 23 May, 2004, much before the offices could even open. Later the Supreme Court termed that decision as “malafide” and severly indicted the government, so much so that Kalam is reported to have even considered resigning from the post of President.
Kalam was left without no option because the Prime Minister was so concerned about Governor Buta Singh’s report of “horse trading” in Bihar. He justified his actions both inside and outside of Parliament on the same count.
The situation in May 2005 has some similarity with the one on 24 September 2013, when the Union Cabinet headed by Manmohan Singh controversially approved an ordinance to reverse the Supreme Court judgment mandating the immediate disqualification of lawmakers convicted for a criminal offence punishable with a jail term of more than two years.
A bill to amend the relevant portion of the Representation of the People (second Amendment and Validation) Bill 2013 was stalled in the Rajya sabha because the BJP opposed the manner in which the Government hastily tried to pass the bill without any substantive decision in the closing days of the just concluded Monsoon session. Faced with stiff opposition by the BJP and reservations by the Left, the government then agreed to send the bill to a Standing Committee for further scrutiny.
Political circles are speculating why the government cannot wait till the winter session to take the bill up in parliament in the normal course. A special CBI court in Ranchi presided by of PK Singh has fixed 30 September as the judgment day for 45 accused, including Lalu Prasad Yadav. The RJD chief has been charged of criminal complicity in a case pertaining to fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 37.7 crore from the Chaibasa treasury in the early 1990s. Though the judgment is yet to come and no one can predict which way it would go, it is widely anticipated in legal and political circles that Lalu will be convicted.
If Lalu Yadav is convicted and sent to jail, thereby losing his seat as an MP and also the right to contest the next elections, then the electoral equations in Bihar could undergo a sea change, something that could be of disadvantage of the RJD and the UPA.
The ordinance would help Lalu Yadav remain an MP, even if without pay and without voting rights inside Parliament. He will continue to enjoy all other political perks and will go to the next elections with the “dignity” of remaining a lawmaker. Though in UPA-2 Lalu is only an outside ally, he remains the most ardent supporter of Congress President Sonia Gandhi and is key backroom strategist for the UPA in crisis situations.
The other person who is set to lose his MP position is Congress’s Rajya Sabha member Rasheed Masood. Earlier with the Samajwadi Party, Masood had joined Congress at the behest of party vice president Rahul Gandhi before the UP assembly elections. Last year he was held to be guilty in a case of corruption and other offences and is set to lose his seat. He has been held guilty of fraudulently nominating undeserving candidates to MBBS seats allotted to Tripura in medical colleges across the country from the central pool. The quantum of punishment on Masood will be pronounced on 1 October.
The explanation offered by Congress sources for the speed with which the ordinance was cleared is that PM Manmohan Singh had to fly to New York on Wednesday morning to return only on 1 October. Ironically, that’s the day Masood is due to be sentenced, and a day after Lalu's fate will be decided. The maximum penalty for the offences they are accused of is seven years in jail.
The government has decided to implement the ordinance with effect from 10 July , the date of the Supreme Court verdict, effectively canceling out the judgment altogether. Its move comes less than three weeks after the apex court had dismissed a government petition seeking a review.
It would be worthwhile to recall that the Supreme Court had given a very strong verdict on the May 2005 dissolution of the Bihar assembly. The majority pronouncement of the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court had in January 2005 called that judgment malafide and severely indicted Governor Buta Singh.
"This court cannot remain a silent spectator watching the subversion of the Constitution", the majority view of five-member Apex Court bench said. By the time the Supreme Court judgment came, the next elections in Bihar had taken place and the Lalu-Rabri regime was overthrown by a popular mandate for a JD(U)-BJP government to be headed by Nitish Kumar.
It remains to be seen if the UPA can bail Lalu out once more. The last time he was bailed out, he paid a political price by losing the Bihar elections.
Updated Date: Sep 25, 2013 12:08:03 IST