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Sonia steps down as MP

Congress President who also resigned as Chairperson of NAC said she was deeply hurt by the agitation.

india Updated: Apr 24, 2006 18:43 IST

Taking the wind out of Opposition sails, Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Thursday announced her resignation from Lok Sabha.

Sonia also resigned as the Chairperson of National Advisory Council (NAC), an office that threatened to cost her seat in Parliament.

As the BJP-led NDA and Samajwadi Party mounted a major political campaign against Gandhi, the 59-year-old widow of Rajiv Gandhi, sprang a surprise that could take away the sting from the Opposition attack that the Government's move for an Ordinance to redefine office of profit was aimed at saving her from 'a certain disqualification' as MP.

The resignation came on day the BJP petitioned President APJ Abdul Kalam seeking her disqualification from Lok Sabha on the ground she held an office of profit as Chairperson of NAC. The TDP had already petitioned the President last week in this regard.

"I have taken a pledge to serve the people of the country and to protect the secular ideals."

Significantly, Chief Election Commissioner BB Tandon said on Thursday that the 

law was same

for everybody and he would consider the petition against Gandhi when it was referred by the President.

After consultations with top leaders including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Gandhi came out with a brief statement in which she regretted that an atmosphere was being created by certain people in the country to project that the Government and Parliament were being used to protect her.

"This has hurt me very much. I have stated it earlier also that I am in politics and public life not for my selfish ends. I have taken a pledge to serve the people of the country and to protect the secular ideals.

"So in keeping with my public life and political principles and according to my own belief, I resign as a member of Lok Sabha and Chairperson of NAC," she said in a statement read out to reporters at her 10, Janpath residence with son Rahul by her side.

Gandhi was in the midst of her second term in Lok Sabha with her first term from Amethi.

Maintaining that she had full faith in the people of Rae Bareli from where she was elected and that the nation would understand her feelings, Gandhi said she would contest again from the same constituency.

With overnight indications that the Government was keen on bringing an Ordinance after getting the Parliament adjourned sine die, the Union Cabinet met on Thursday but the issue did not come up, apparently because of Gandhi's reservations over including NAC in the list office of profit sought to be exempted.

How they reacted:

• "All options open on the issue of promulgating an ordinance on redefining office of profit" - Manmohan Singh 

•  "There cannot be two standards on the issue " - LK Advani

•  "She has shown again that she is not interested in position or power" - AK Antony

•  "Her decision amounted to admission that she is holding office of profit" - TDP

While the Congressmen were keen that the NAC should be also covered by the amendment to the Members of Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Act, Gandhi was firm that she should not be seen as being benefited by any legal device. 



"I have done this because this is the right thing to do," Gandhi said when asked by reporters why she did it. 



This is her second act of giving up a politically important position after her refusal to take up prime ministership soon after the Congress-led UPA was voted to power in May 2004.

With Gandhi's resignation, interest will now centre around the strategy to be adopted by similarly placed persons.

Petitions have been filed for disqualification of Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee (Chairman of Srinikatan- Shantinikatan Development Authority), Union Minister Subbirami Reddy (Chairman, Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams), senior Congress leader Karan Singh (ICCR), nominated Rajya Sabha member Kapila Vatsyayan and VK Malhotra (former President of All India Council of Sports).

The Speaker had even kept away from the House yesterday saying he did it as a matter of propriety after some members had raked up issues against him.

While Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan was disqualified last week on the ground that she held an office of profit by being Chairperson of UP Film Development Council, the Election Commission has already sent a notice to her party colleague Amar Singh, Rajya Sabha MP and Chairperson of UP Industrial Development Council, on a similar petition against him.

On Thursday the SP turned down his offer to resign and attacked the Centre on the Ordinance issue.

In all about 62 MPs are said to be in various posts most of them Left party members in West Bengal, which the Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee has sought to exploit politically ahead of the assembly polls in the state.