New Delhi: The ordinance approved by the United Progressive Alliance government that negates a key aspect of the Supreme Court’s judgment disallowing a convicted legislator from continuing to be a member of the House by going on appeal is so ham-handed that it looks likely to result in an own goal. The action, apart from being bad in principle, has also been inept in execution.
All political parties must share the blame for the growing criminalisation of politics in the country. But the unity of the political class on such issues appears to have broken down. Almost all of them are now opposing the UPA government’s plan to bring an ordinance that would have restored the status quo ante by allowing a convicted legislator to carry on in a business-as-usual manner after going on appeal.
Apart from the legal or moral aspect, the politics of the whole matter has put the Congress and the UPA on the defensive.
It is being widely alleged that the UPA has gone in for the ordinance in order to protect a key ally, Lalu Prasad, who may be found guilty in a fodder scam case, judgment for which is round the corner. Not only does this give the Congress a bad name, the ineptitude involved is twofold.
One, even if the ordinance is promulgated and eventually passed by Parliament, it will allow a convicted legislator to only participate in the proceedings of the House; he would be able to neither vote nor draw his entitlements. His moral standing will, thus, be completely undermined and it is difficult to see how he will gain by simply attending the legislature. Therefore, the question to be posed to the Congress is: what is this in aid of?
The second aspect is more substantive. Principal Opposition parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) went along with the other amendment that gives reprieve to those charged. The BJP was all for going along with the second amendment also that sought to give reprieve to those convicted, but later had a change of heart allegedly when it realised the ordinance was meant to bail out Mr Prasad.
By opposing the second amendment at the last moment, the BJP has managed to shift the spotlight on to the Congress, which in the months to come is likely to bear the whole burden of siding with criminals against a Supreme Court trying to clean the Augean stables.
Several outcomes are possible. There are already appeals to the president not to sign the ordinance. He can certainly ask for it to be reconsidered, an option that he should consider.
Another possibility is that with most of the political class now against the Congress on the matter, the chances of the ordinance getting converted into law are slim.
Expediency, not principles, will prompt the Opposition parties to challenge the amendment Bill in Parliament. The best course for the Congress would be not to go ahead with the ordinance in view of current realities.
This will lead to a temporary loss of face but the political downside, once public attention moves to other things, will be minimal. All that the president needs to do is to delay taking a decision on the ordinance that is before him for his assent.