The unprecedented drama witnessed in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday over the “cash-for-vote” scam has thrown up some important politico-legal questions relevant for the very survival of parliamentary democracy in the country.
The shocking image of wads of Rs 1,000 being placed on the Lok Sabha Secretary General’s table revived memories of the JMM bribery case in which four JMM MPs allegedly received gunny bags full of currency notes to save P.V. Narasimha Rao’s minority government in July 1998. The money was deposited in the Naurojinagar branch of the Punjab National Bank in the capital.
Can bribe-givers be prosecuted?
In the infamous JMM bribery case, the Supreme Court ruled that those who gave bribes to MPs can be prosecuted but the bribe-taking MPs cannot be proceeded against as they enjoyed immunity from prosecution under Article 105(2) of the Constitution. In Tuesday’s case, action cannot be taken against the bribe-takers as they have acted like whistleblowers. But the law will take its own course against the bribe-givers, irrespective of whether they are MPs.
In fact, the bribe-givers can be proceeded against by the Lok Sabha for breach of privilege and under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), 1988 for bribing public servants.
In the ‘cash-for-query’ scam, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha expelled the MPs involved after their respective committees found them guilty of taking bribes for asking questions in the House. The SC upheld the constitutional validity of the action and they are are facing prosecution under the PCA.
What action can the Speaker take?
The precise facts of the ‘cash-for-vote’ scam are yet to come out as the TV channel involved in the sting operation did not telecast it, saying it would submit the tapes to Somnath Chatterjee. The Speaker assured the House that nobody would be spared if found guilty.
There is no reason to doubt the Speaker’s intentions. But if the alleged bribe-givers are members of the Upper House, what can he do? Can Lok Sabha take any action against a member of the Rajya Sabha? Or will he recommend action against members of the other House to the Rajya Sabha Chairman? In the absence of any precedent, it is difficult to hazard a guess.
The road ahead
The JMM MPs bribery case, the ‘cash-for-query’ scam and now the alleged attempt to bribe three BJP MPs to support the UPA government’s trust motion. It all points to a disturbing trend in Indian politics that needs to be arrested at the earliest lest it completely destroys the people’s faith in the democratic institutions. Will those in power and in the Opposition rise above petty political considerations and sit together to form a Joint Parliamentary Committee to suggest politico-legal measures to tackle the menace of horse-trading? It is high time our politicians realised that it requires collective will and wisdom of the political class as a whole.