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      On This, Rahul is Right         

Omkar Goswami


It was simultaneously apt and inapt. A jet lagged Manmohan Singh chose to do penance on 2 October 2013, the 144th birth anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Apt because it is a day for reflection and atonement. Inapt because the penitent specialises in wearing a garb of personal innocence to tolerate all manner of venality in his watch.

Before discussing Rahul Gandhi’s bombshell, let us examine the ordinance which was ratified by the cabinet and sent to the President for his approval. It was no different from the Representation of the People (Second Amendment) Bill, 2013, which the government introduced in the Rajya Sabha during the monsoon session of parliament, but couldn’t get passed. Presumably, the hurry to go the ordinance route was the imminent fodder scam conviction of an ally, Lalu Prasad, and also of Rasheed Masood, a Congress MP convicted for cheating, criminal conspiracy and forgery.

Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 relates to disqualification on conviction for a large list of offences. However, since turkeys never vote for Thanksgiving, our lawmakers introduced sub-section (4) of section 8 in 1989, which gives huge relief to sitting MPs or an MLAs. In simple English, it states that irrespective of any crime listed in sub-sections (1), (2) and (3) of section 8, our representatives who grace the parliament and state legislatures will not be disqualified until three months of the date of conviction or, if they have appealed, until such an appeal has been disposed of by the court. It goes without saying that no such provision exists for the normal citizens of India.

For well over two decades, sub-section (4) of section 8 saved the bacon of our legislators. Until 10 July 2013. After hearing a public interest litigation [Lilly Thomas vs. Union of India and others], a division bench of the Supreme Court struck down this odious sub-section, stating that parliament had no power to enact it and that it was ultra vires, or beyond the powers, of the constitution of India.

In reaction, the government introduced an outrageous amendment bill in the Rajya Sabha, which, if passed, would come into effect from 10 July 2013 — the date of the Supreme Court order. It stated that no disqualification of an MP or an MLA shall take effect if an appeal is filed within 90 days of the date of conviction and/or if such a conviction is stayed by a higher court. Moreover, in the interregnum, a convicted MP or MLA may continue to participate in the parliament or legislative assembly, without drawing salary, allowances or voting. The bill didn’t go through. Immediately, the government opted for the ordinance. If the President had assented, Lalu and Masood would have sitting in the Lok Sabha delivering their homilies.

Rahul Gandhi was correct in calling it, “complete nonsense and should be torn up and thrown away”. Those who have condemned him for blasting an ordinance passed by cabinet, especially when the prime minister is abroad, must remember four things. First, Rahul Gandhi is neither in government nor a member of the cabinet. He has every right to criticise a wrong cabinet decision — especially one that had enraged the middle class. Second, before disparaging Rahul, please rubbish a cabinet led by the morally upright which takes such a self-serving and ethically contemptible decision. Third, while it is fair to guess that the cabinet decision may have occurred due to the High Command’s signals, there is no wrong in the son to de facto disagree with his mother on a matter such as this. I would expect it of him, given the stance that he chooses to take in his politics. Finally, ask this question: How much more pusillanimous can our virtuous primus inter pares be?

Its over. On Gandhiji’s birthday. Let the sulking prime minister nurse his hurt. And the cabinet reflect on its collective shame. Thank Rahul for this one. He did it right. Morally. And politically.

Published: Business World, November 2013


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