Striking a note with the popular mood
Oct 04 2013
Indians’ patience with corrupt elected representatives is wearing thin
The Indian people’s patience with corrupt elected representatives is wearing thin. Whether or not Rahul Gandhi could have spoken in a more genteel manner against his own party government’s ordinance which sought to save convicted MLAs and MPs is a matter that’s fit for screaming debates on TV news channels, but the fact is he did strike a consonant position with the popular mood.
Never before has the UPA government been made to eat the humble pie by its own men as this time by Rahul. Till his last Friday’s momentous appearance in the capital’s Press Club to denounce the ordinance, Congress leaders had been vociferously defending the ordinance. (Of course, a few days earlier some feeble voices had been heard against the piece of law from a few of Rahul’s acolytes.)
It’s not the UPA alone that had to eat the humble pie — a string of Congress leaders and spin doctors had been the most active on the TV circuit, extolling the virtues of the law. Then, when the rude cue from Rahul came, they suddenly had to defend the indefensible, looking very red-faced and, I dare say, shameless.
Lalu is the first prominent politician to lose his Lok Sabha seat in the manner he did — that is getting convicted in the Rs 950 crore fodder scam and sentenced to five years in jail with a Rs 25 lakh fine.
Some — in fact many —think the punishment is not enough and that he should have all his movable and immovable assets be seized.
Shameless was the way the UPA government tried to push the ordinance in the first place. President Pranab Mukherjee was not keen on signing the ordinance. His concern was also around legality of the ordinance after the July 10 ruling of the Supreme Court.
Clearly, the President could gauge the popular mood. People are simply fed up, having seen scam after scam in which hundreds of crore just disappear. From the Bofors scam, the urea scam, and more recently, the 2G scam and the coalgate, the nation has suffered them all.
States too have been victims of the scourge: sand mining, iron ore, hydrocarbon — in every contract there is a quid pro quo and some politician’s pocket gets lined.
The July 10 Supreme Court ruling did not come a day too soon: it has changed the rules of engagement for elected politicians, who abuse their power for personal gains with impunity. But the ruling throws up a number of nagging questions.
The Supreme Court has said Parliament does not have the power under Articles 102(1)(e) and 191(1)(e) to make different laws for a person to be disqualified for being chosen as a member and for a person to be disqualified for continuing as a member of Parliament or a state legislature.
The question that arises is: if Parliament has overreached its brief, with whom does this power to disqualify or let a member continue be vested after the two-judge bench of the Supreme Court struck down sub-section (4) of section 8 in the Representation of Peoples Act as ultra vires of the Constitution?
This has spurred a debate among constitutional experts whether the disqualification becomes automatic immediately after a conviction or sentence. Or, should this power to disqualify continue to be vested with the President of India?
The timing of disqualification and possible date for re-election to the seat so vacated is another open question. Should the Central Election Commission not guide the President on this question?
Article 103 of the Constitution provides helpful insights as to whose decision on disqualification is final. The article in clause 1 clearly states, “If any question arises as to whether a member of either House of Parliament has become subject to any of the disqualifications, the question shall be referred for the decision of the President and his decision shall be final.”
Section 2 of the same article also provides that “before giving any decision on any such a question, the President shall obtain the opinion of the Election Commission and shall act according to such opinion.”
Various provisions in articles 101 and 102 further elaborate the circumstances under which the elected members of Parliament or legislatures should vacate their seats. Here again, presiding officers of both Houses of Parliament, legislature or council in a state play a key role in recommending disqualification, circumstances for vacation of a seat or otherwise. Definitive provisions in all the three articles also vest the final decision on disqualification, vacation and re-election in the president of India.
Should this balance between judiciary, executive and legislatures/Parliament not be preserved?
Constitutional experts and legal luminaries believe that automatic cancellation of membership of either Houses of Parliament or legislature is tantamount to changing the delicate checks and balances between the three arms of governance. Neither the judiciary nor Parliament can assume such power while the Constitution clearly vests this power in the President of India.
Still, there is no gainsaying that what will help in dealing with corrupt politicians is fast-track courts to speed up cases, investigations and dealing with the pile-up of such cases in courts across the country.