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No option but a hasty retreat

The Union Cabinet’s decision to rescind its move to protect convicted lawmakers from immediate disqualification can be described a good decision arrived at in a wrong way. The drama over it has embarrassed the UPA.

india Updated: Oct 03, 2013 01:02 IST

A good decision arrived at in a wrong way, and with a lot of avoidable embarrassment to the government and the Congress — that is how the Union Cabinet’s decision to rescind its move to protect convicted lawmakers from immediate disqualification can be described.

The Cabinet on Wednesday took two decisions — the first was to withdraw an ordinance it had sent to the president for promulgation. The ordinance sought to protect lawmakers convicted of certain crimes from immediate disqualification.

The second was to withdraw the Bill (under consideration of Parliament) that would have later replaced the ordinance.

The entire sequence of events was triggered by a Supreme Court (SC) decision that declared as null and void Section 8 (4) of the Representation of the People Act that excluded from disqualification sitting lawmakers even after being convicted of crimes that would have made ordinary citizens ineligible to contest elections.

The government moved to amend the SC order, claiming a political consensus on the issue, something that the BJP now says is not true.

The government moved a Bill that would have prevented immediate disqualification provided the convicted lawmaker had moved an appellate court and the court had stayed the conviction and sentence.

As a middle path, the Bill proposed that they would not have voting rights and a salary while the appeal was pending. Subsequently, to deal with the impending conviction of two lawmakers — Congress’s Rashid Masood and RJD leader Lalu Prasad — the Cabinet approved an ordinance for the same.

The government move was widely criticised and was not taken lightly by the public who was already tired of the falling standards of public life. Reading the public mood, the BJP declared its opposition to the government move, and several Congress leaders too voiced their concerns.

Later the president sought a clarification on the issue and reportedly questioned the urgency and necessity of the move.

And then, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi rubbished the ordinance as “complete nonsense”.

Gandhi’s intervention — for the right cause certainly — undermined the standing of the Cabinet and the prime minister. However, from then on, the government had no option but to retreat.

That is what the government did finally. This was a law that should not have been initiated at all. That it had to die such a controversial death only adds to the afflictions that this government is already battling.