President Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday called in three senior ministers for clarifications on the recent ordinance passed by the cabinet to shield convicted lawmakers from disqualification as the BJP urged him to return the proposal.
The government is finding itself in a spot with the opposition turning up the heat on it for overturning a Supreme Court judgment that ordered immediate disqualification of MPs/MLAs convicted in a criminal case punishable by two years or more in jail. Even within the Congress, some leaders have gone public with their reservations over the move that is being seen as an attempt to protect the tainted.
For the ordinance to become a law, it has to be signed by the President. If the cabinet resends it, the President would have no choice but to sign it.
Thursday evening was busy for the President. First, top BJP leaders registered their protest over what they termed was "an unconstitutional move" and then senior ministers were called in to explain the reasons behind the decision. The President, it is learnt, is treading with caution.
Mukherjee is not entirely convinced with the government's ordinance move, and is learnt to have sought some clarifications from home minister Sushilkumar Shinde, law minister Kapil Sibal and parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath after the BJP requested the President to send the ordinance back to the cabinet, sources told HT.
Sources said Mukherjee may wait till Prime Minister Manmohan Singh returns from his visit on October 1. Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party will be meeting the President on Friday on the same issue.
In a clear indication of growing unease within the ruling party, union minister Milind Deora and party leader Anil Shastri went public with their reservations on the ordinance. On Wednesday, senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, too, had called for consensus.
Senior BJP leaders LK Advani, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj submitted a memorandum to Mukherjee, saying the July 10 SC verdict should be accepted by the political class. "We have requested him not to sign this unconstitutional ordinance and return to the cabinet for reconsideration," Advani said.
Jaitley said the Court judgment had provided political parties an opportunity to improve their credibility. "Criminalisation of politics and politicisation of politics have been a matter of grave concern …People expect a convicted person to be in prison," Jaitley said.
Swaraj said the BJP had never given its consent to the bill that sought to reverse the July 10 verdict. The bill couldn't be passed in the recent monsoon session, so the government took the ordinance route.
Earlier in the day, Chidambaram accused the BJP of changing stand. "Actually you should ask the BJP. They first wanted a change in the law, why they first said they would pass the bill and then why did they change their mind towards the last days of the Parliament session," he said.