Parties may settle for a law now
THE ORDINANCE route that had caused the opposition to attack Sonia Gandhi seems to be right and truly junked by her resignations.
The focus now seems to be on a regular amendment to the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Act, 1959, to take vulnerable MPs out of the harm's way.
There are wide gaps in the thinking of parties like the BJP (it does not support a legislation with retrospective effect) and the CPM (it wants "necessary legislation so that disqualification... is not applied sweepingly and indiscriminately").
The choice of words is interesting, given that a list of nearly 100 MPs, cutting across party lines, is currently under the scrutiny of the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs to sift the grain from the chaff. On the list are 10 BJP MPs and eight or nine from the CPM.
As indicated by the PM, the issue requires an all-party approach — which, until Sonia's resignation, did not seem possible due to the BJP-led NDA's public stance that the government wanted an ordinance to bail out the Congress president.
"All options are open. We'll discuss it with other political parties," Singh told reporters after Sonia's resignation.
Even if the BJP persists with its stand, which could cause disqualification of certain MPs, including some of their own, the government can, with the Left's backing, bring a law and have it passed. Even in the Rajya Sabha, where the treasury and the opposition are evenly poised, there may not be much difficulty as non-NDA and non-UPA parties too have their share of doubtful members.
Before exploring the idea of an ordinance, the government had approached political parties with the proposal of a regular bill. If BJP leader Sushma Swaraj is to be believed, Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj contacted her last Sunday to seek a list of her party MPs holding offices of profit that could be incorporated in a bill under the treasury's consideration.
Claiming that he was assigned the task by the PM himself, he said he approached her on the advise of the BJP's Deputy Leader in the Lok Sabha, V.K. Malhotra, who was leaving for the Commonwealth Games in Australia.
Swaraj, who dismissed Sonia's resignation as mere adherence to law with no element of sacrifice, apparently did not provide any list to Bhardwaj.
But the law minister, on having similarly contacted the SP's Amar Singh, reportedly received a letter listing three offices for which his party wanted retrospective relief. One such post was held by Singh himself, the other by Jaya Bachchan for which she stood disqualified and the third by Anuradha Choudhary, an MP of Ajit Singh's party.
Meanwhile, the big question remains: when will Parliament be reconvened to take up the issue? At the earliest, it can be in May, when the two Houses were originally scheduled to reassemble after the completion of elections to five state assemblies. But it is still early days to hazard a guess about the time-frame or the exact nature of the legislation the government will place before Parliament.