By Bhanupriya Rao:
What the Supreme Court proposes, the Government disposes. In a manner that is not just brazen but entirely unconstitutional.
On July 10, 2013, The Supreme Court came out with a judgement that disqualified sitting MPs/MLAs if they were convicted by the court. On 4th September 2013, the Union of India filed a review petition on this judgement, which was rejected by the Supreme Court. Not satisfied, the Government tabled an amendment to the Representation of People’s Act in the Monsoon session of the Parliament in August 2013, which was subsequently referred to a parliamentary Standing Committee where it is meant to be deliberated.
So it is a matter of grave concern and worry, when bypassing all these procedures, the cabinet cleared an Ordinance on the 24th of September to amend the same Act by overriding both the legislature and judiciary. Everything from the manner to the timing and content of the ordinance reeks of attempts to save the political interests of a few. It is widespread knowledge that Rashid Masood, a Congress MP and Lalu Prasad Yadav, a key UPA ally, stand to lose their seats in verdicts that are to be delivered in corruption cases on the 1st October and 3oth September respectively. The timing of the Ordinance is hardly a coincidence.
Ordinances are typically promulgated by the President of India in the rarest of rare cases when the Parliament is not in session and ‘when s/he is satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action’. This is neither an exceptional circumstance nor an emergency like situation to merit an Ordinance bypassing the other two organs of our democracy. The only emergency, it is apparent, is the conviction of the two MPs and the need to secure their seats in the parliament.
The content of the Ordinance is equally troubling. It states that a member of Parliament or the Legislature of a State, duly convicted by a court of law, who is taking advantage of the ninety days grace period to file an appeal or application for revision, “…shall neither be entitled to vote nor draw salary and allowance…” As Prof. Jagdeep Chhokar of ADR says ‘This raises a fundamental doubt about what is an MP or MLA supposed to do while s/he is in the Parliament or the Legislature of a State. The act of voting is thus the raison d’Ãªtre of an MP or MLA being in the Parliament or the Legislature of a State. It may not be out of place to state that a legislator who cannot vote is in effect a non-legislator. To have people sitting in Parliament who are not allowed to vote, I believe, amounts to denigration of the hallowed institution of Parliament. If they cannot vote, they have no reason to be in the legislature.’
Every once in a while, progressive institutions like the Supreme Court pass judgements that have the potential of cleaning up our tainted political and electoral systems. At a time when faith in our public institutions and public servants in hitting nadir, this judgement should have been seen as an opportunity to further disinfect our politics. The Ordinance is just the move that demonstrates how serious the Government is in promoting progressive politics.
As young people, it is our right to demand a fairer and cleaner system. A legislature without criminals is the minimum we can hope, ask and demand for. For every progressive step taken, if we take a few hundred steps backward, we will fail to call ourselves an evolved democracy. We must protest against the ordinance and against any move that scuttles progressive politics.
Here is what you can do to make your voice heard:
Email the President of India at firstname.lastname@example.org
You could also leave messages on his Facebook page
Here is a text of the letter sent by Prof. Jagdeep Chhokar. Feel free to use the text in parts or entirety.
Arise and Act now!