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Bypassing statesman Kalam

Bypassing statesman Kalam

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Free Press Journal
Date: August 21, 2006
URL: http://www.samachar.com/features/210806-editorial.html

It is a mockery of parliamentary democracy, and even oldfashioned commonsense ( which seems to be rather uncommon in the Government of gentleman Prime Minister Manmohan Singh).The insistence to first enact a law and almost simultaneously have the same re-examined afresh by a joint parliamentary committee reverses the normal order of conducting legislative business.

One would have thought it made commonsense to have a joint parliamentary committee examine threadbare a proposed legislation before sending it up to Parliament for approval. But in this case the order has been reversed for purely opportunistic reasons.

As many as forty MPs belonging to the ruling coalition would have faced disqualification had the law not been changed with retrospective effect. Among them was the most honourable Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee. Indeed, a large number of those likely to forfeit their seats in the House had belonged to the left parties.

So the Left pocketed its principles and encouraged the Government to pass a legislation which would extricate it from the clutches of the office of profit law with retrospective effect. The Prime Minister was only too willing to oblige.

But the President A P J Abdul Kalam was no pushover. Extraneous interests could not prevail on this truly illustrious tenant of Rashtrapati Bhawan. He had no political agenda of his own to advance. Nor was he ready to stick to his `gaddi' by abandoning his duty to protect and uphold the Constitution. Kalam's decency however was vetoed by the ingrained crudity of the Union Law Minister Hansraj Bhardwaj. Not so surprisingly the clueless Prime Minister fully endorsed Bhardwaj's game-plan.

For, instead of paying heed to the concerns of the President Kalam regarding the office of profit bill, the Government pushed through the self-same bill a second time without a comma unaltered. This was an affront to the Head of the State, alright. But, regardless, hon'ble MPs put their dhobi mark yet again on the questionable piece of legislation. Cogent arguments advanced by the President were ignored.

While returning the Parliament Prevention of Disqualification (Amendment) Bill, 2006, Kalam had listed several inconsistencies and loopholes. His sane advice went unheard. Thumbing its nose at Kalam, in a most arrogant display of power the Government had the same bill sent back to him for his approval on August 9, 2006.

As the threat of disqualification loomed over 40-odd MPs against whom complaints had been filed with the Election Commission, the President sat on the Bill. He had every reason to be unhappy with the Government which had paid scant respect to his sane counsel. Though the Constitution left the President with no option other than to give his assent to the bill sent back a second time after approval by parliament, Kalam could still cause problems if he decided to refer it to the apex court for vetting.

There being some confusion over the right of the President to suo motu refer the bill to the Supreme Court, Kalam displayed statesmanship by finally giving assent to the amended bill on Friday.

Given the constitutional fetters on the office of the President, Kalam could not have done anything more to register his protest against the palpable partisanship enshrined in the Parliament Prevention of Disqualification (Amendment) Bill, 2006. In order that Somnath Chatterjee and others of his ilk could ward off the threat of disqualification, the Government of gentleman Prime Minister made our parliament a laughing stock of the world. It moved with supersonic speed to quash the time-honoured safeguards put in place by the founding fathers against conflict of interest of legislators.

Now, the formation of a joint parliamentary committee to examine the office of profit provisions further denudes the Government of whatever decency it might still have been left with after it had acted in such cavalier a fashion with President Kalam. The formation of the JPC is a crude stratagem to appease the President. Ironically, the advice of the President virtually constitutes the terms of reference of the JPC.

It is an admission that the Bill, which Kalam was obliged to sign by an impudent government, was flawed. The sanctity of the Constitution has become a plaything in the hands of ruling party MPs who amend it to suit their own convenience regardless of the larger principles involved.

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