HT This Day: September 3, 1970 — Princes lose by bare 9 votes

  • Lok Sabha adopts Constitution Bill (339 to 154)
Published on Sep 02, 2021 11:52 PM IST
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Lok Sabha adopts Constitution Bill (339 to 154)

Uneven performance during passage

New Delhi- In an epoch-making decision, the Lok Sabha today accorded its approval to the Constitution (24th Amendment) Bill for the abolition of privy purses and privileges of former rulers. Amidst acclamation from the treasury benches and a sizable section- of the Opposition, the Speaker, Mr G. S. Dhillon, announced that the Bill had been passed by 339 to 154 votes.

As Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wound up the two-day debate and the division bell rang, the atmosphere was surcharged with such excitement as never witnessed before in the history of the Indian Parliament.

The touch-and-go nature of close voting was picturesquely evident on the electronic device-the essential two-thirds majority for the passage of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill was ensured by mere nine votes.

The Congress (0), the Swatantra Party and the Jan Sangh lost the crucial battle despite some BKD and Independent votes. The few Congress princes who exercised their right of conscience failed to materially affect the position.

The Speaker declared that the Bill had obtained the support of the majority of the total membership of the House and a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members present and voting, as required by Article 368 of the Constitution.

The voting pattern was not uniform at all stages of the Bill's passage. It was 336 to 155 on the first reading and two clauses received 339 to 152 and 336 to 153 votes, respectively. Mrs Gandhi's amendment fixing Oct. 15 as the date on which the legislation would come into force was carried by 338 to 152 votes.

Different figures

On every occasion, the machine showed a different set of figures, Later rectified by the Lok Sabha Secretariat staff. The plea advanced by Mr N. G. Ranga (Swa), Mr A. B. Vajpayee (Jan Sangh) and some Congress (0) members that the voting should be recorded in the lobbies was not accepted by the Speaker.

Before proceeding with clause-wise consideration of the Bill, the House rejected by a voice vote amendments seeking to elicit public opinion and refer the measure to a select committee and to the Supreme Court under Article 143 of the Constitution.

Besides Mrs Gandhi, the Finance Minister, Mr Y. B. Chavan today put forward the Government point of view, tracing the history of the negotiations with the princes. Both maintained that privy purses were not in the nature of private property and the "covenants" were no contractual agreements but merely political settlements which had to change with the changing times.

They assured the princes of their desire to sort out the question of "transitional allowance" even after the Bill had been passed.

Fervent appeal

While Mr Chavan described Mr Morarji Desai's speech as most "un-Morarjilike", Mrs Gandhi recalled the Mahabharata when the veteran Bhishma Pitamah was made to give a moral facade to the indefensible cause of the Kauravas.

Mr Chavan made a fervent appeal to his former partymen sitting opposite, asking them not to forget that the abolition of privy purses and privileges was the decision of the undivided AICC and was reaffirmed at the Ahmedabad session of the Congress (O).

Opposition leader, Dr Ram Subhag Singh, seemed to be prepared to respond, provided Mr Chavan could undo all the "unfair" tactics adopted by the Congress (N) since the split.

Mrs Gandhi found a remark immediately rebounding when she said that "politics makes strange bedfellows," while commenting on the words of appreciation for Mr P. Ramamurti (CPM) by the Maharaja of Bikaner, Mr Karni Singh (Ind).

In derisive laughter, Mr Piloo Mody (Swa) and some others asked her: "It applies to whom?"

Mr Ramamoorti supported the Bill but bitterly attacked the Government, alleging that the "transitional allowance" scheme had been deliberately kept a secret so that the princes might be pressurised to serve the political game of the ruling party.

He asked the Prime Minister why she did not invoke the provisions of Article 366 (22) of the Constitution which empowered the President not to recognise any succession. An executive order could have thus abolished the princely order.

The Prime Minister agreed with the suggestion but argued the Constitution (Amendment) Bill had been brought forward with a view to obtaining the sanction of the highest legislative body in the country.

Total opposition

Mr Prakash Vir Shastri (BKD) expressed his total opposition to the Bill, while Mr S.N. Dwivedi (PSP) and Mr S. M. Joshi (SSP) showed great enthusiasm in support of it. But Mr Dwivedi agreed with Mr Ramamoorti that there was something fishy about the Government not disclosing its full plans.

Two princes spoke in two voices, both recalling their great heritage. The Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister, Dr Karan Singh, (Jammu and Kashmir) asked his brethren to "seize the move of destiny" instead of "being pushed by the change."

Mr Karni Singh of Bikaner, told the House that his father, the late Maharaja Sadhu Singh, was the first to sign the document of accession and his role had been applauded by no less a person than Dr Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India. Ironically, Dr Karni Singh's father, Maharaja Hari Singh, was almost the last to do this, causing the country immeasurable difficulties.

He challenged the Government to take an opinion poll in the respective area of the princes before coming to any decision.

Recounting a number of major problems, Mr Karni Singh said the abolition of privy purses and privileges was only diversionary tactics of the Government.

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Sunday, July 03, 2022