?Save-Sonia? law flares up Houses

PARLIAMENT ADJOURNED sine die on Wednesday amid speculation that the government was contemplating an ordinance to put an entire lot of elected representatives beyond the pale of disqualification for holding offices of profit.

india Updated: Mar 23, 2006 13:17 IST

PARLIAMENT ADJOURNED sine die on Wednesday amid speculation that the government was contemplating an ordinance to put an entire lot of elected representatives beyond the pale of disqualification for holding offices of profit.

But the Opposition, which too has its share of MPs and MLAs in the line of danger, was quick to put the government on the mat, saying the ordinance was meant to afford safe passage to Sonia Gandhi as chairperson of the National Advisory Council (NAC).

Under the Constitution, an ordinance can only be issued when Parliament is not in session. And for that, the President has to prorogue the two Houses. It was natural, therefore, for the Opposition to link the sudden cutting short of the Budget Session (scheduled to reassemble from May 10 to 23) with the proposed ordinance.

However, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi rejected the insinuation. "We recommended sine die adjournment since there was no government business left to transact," he maintained. On their part, the Congress' legal and constitutional experts, Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Singhvi, averred that the NAC wasn't an office of profit.

They said the Sonia-headed council was "purely an advisory body" set up to monitor the UPA's Common Minimum Programme. Its suggestions were "recommendatory" and "not binding" on the government.

Privately, UPA sources did not deny that the ordinance could be in the works. But they insisted that the move would afford a cushion to parliamentarians on either side of the power divide. Nearly a dozen Left MPs and some of the BJP and the SP are also linked to positions that could endanger their memberships.

When the issue came up in the House on Wednesday morning, Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, who is the honorary chairman of the Sriniketan Shantiniketan Development Authority, asked his deputy C.S. Atwal to chair the proceedings as Opposition MPs flaunted copies of a newspaper that mentioned him among those holding posts that could be construed as offices of profit.

Chatterjee persisted with his stand even when floor leaders said they were talking of a larger issue and did not intend to target him.

Not willing to let the UPA off the hook, MPs of the NDA and the SP forced repeated adjournments of both Houses till they were adjourned sine die. And that set the stage for BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee to call on President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. Heading an NDA delegation, he urged Kalam not to sign the ordinance meant to protect Sonia from her legal predicament.

In their separate meeting with the President, the SP and the TDP sought to apply in Sonia's case the yardstick by which Jaya Bachchan stood disqualified.


office of profit
Opposition claimed the Budget Session was cut short to issue an ordinance on offices of profit which will give a safe passage to Sonia Gandhi, UPA chairperson

UPA countered that the government has no more business left to be transacted. Also, Sonia as chairperson of NAC was not holding an office of profit
AN NDA delegation headed by Vajpayee urged President Kalam not to sign the ordinance. Meanwhile SP and Telugu Desam Party asked the President to apply the Jaya yardstick for Sonia.

First Published: Mar 23, 2006 13:17 IST