Why BJP is defensive on assets issue
Will Bhairon Singh Shekhawat stump Pratibha Patil by declaring his assets? Will he do so because of LK Advani’s plea to the Election Commission to make the candidates declare their assets and liabilities?
The answer, according to Shekhawat’s spokesperson Sushma Swaraj, is that he would rather wait for the EC to respond to Advani’s plea before taking any suo moto step. Having already rejected the UPA’s demand that he step down as Vice-President, just as Patil quit as Rajashtan governor, Shekhawat sees no pressure on him to declare his assets. “As a candidate, he awaits the EC’s decision on Advani’s plea.”
But the BJP finds itself on the back foot, having to field questions on why the NDA government did not amend the law in 2002 to include the posts of President and Vice-President within the Supreme Court’s directive to the EC for candidates to declare their assets and liabilities. The AB Vajpayee government had inserted section 33(a) in the Representation of People’s Act, in response to the apex court verdict, to make it mandatory for all candidates contesting elective posts to give a declaration in this regard.
“We did not cover the post of President and Vice-President then as there was too little time between the Supreme Court’s directive and the 2002 presidential poll,” said the BJP's Ravi Shankar Prasad.
Why then did the government not do it subsequently? “Election reforms are an ongoing process. The EC is well within its powers now to issue a directive to the candidates under Article 324, which covers all elections.”
Neither Advani nor Prasad think a directive by the EC in the middle of the poll process is inappropriate. “The higher the post, the higher the level of scrutiny should be,” Prasad said.
Why is the BJP insisting on candidates declaring their assets? It believes Patil would be in soup if there is incongruence in her declared assets and liabilities in the light of allegations against her.
NDA taking no chances
Taking no chances with its numbers (1.5 lakh less than the votes commanded by Patil), NDA leaders have asked all alliance MPs to assemble in Delhi to case their ballot for Shekhawat and called a meeting of their parliamentary party on July 17. “The MPs will be asked to attend the meeting and stay put in the Capital till July 19, the date of the election,” Swaraj said. Normally, MPs are free to vote either in their state capitals or in Delhi.