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April 23, 2006
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April 23, 2006

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Home > 2006 Issues > April 23, 2006

Media Watch

Profit and sacrifice

How unmindful can our Parliamentarians?and our political parties?be? Instead of gloating over Jaya Bachchan?s disqualification, the Congress Party should have taken immediate steps to see that she retains her chairmanship of some minor committee of no particular importance. But revenge seems to have been the motive and it has plainly backfired.

The story about the resignations of many MPs? including Sonia Gandhi?on the issue of ?office of profit? is so ridiculous that one wants not to laugh, but cry. The law which forced the resignations (Prevention of Disqualification Act) as Indian Express (March 24) first pointed out, ?has become almost farcical today?. True, the prospects of the UPA Government wishing to introduce an Ordinance was first announced by the Express and it should get credit for it. But The Times of India ( March 24) not to be outdone, carried a half-page advertisement to tell readers that it was Times Now which broke the ?office of profit? story and its implications on MPs. The paper further noted that on March 17 Jaya Bachchan was ?surprised? when her being asked to quit office appeared in the media. So, said The Times of India ?When it comes to real impact, Times now delivers it best?. Ho, ho, ho. But interesting The Times of India did not carry an editorial on the subject on March 24.

Indian Express did, but it was obviously written before it heard of Sonia Gandhi?s resignation from Lok Sabha and it went on to condemn the likelihood of the UPA government resorting to an Ordinance, saying that such a move would reflect ?political morality at its lowest?. Indeed, said the Express, an Ordinance ?would demonstrate astonishingly poor political judgment and a disturbing lack of sensitivity to democratic norms? and the adjournment of Parliament ?could go down as one of the lowest points in the UPA government?s tenure...? The pity about the entire crisis, the Express wrote, is that ?it is all so unnecessary?. But what was noteworthy of the Express is an article it published (March 24) by Subhash C.Kashyap, former Secretary-General of the Lok Sabha trying to explain ?who profits from what office?. What are the essential characteristics of an office of profit? ?Profit? as he pointed out ?doesn?t necessarily means remuneration in cash but certainly means some kind of advantage or gain?. What are the essential characteristics of an ?office of profit?? He named seven of them: (1) It involves an appointment by the state in one form or the other; (2) It carries emoluments payable mostly periodically; (3) It is for a limited period; (4) It is terminable; (5) It is not assignable; (6) It is not heritable and (7) the holder of the office must be sui juris (managing one?s own affairs?).

The normally pro-Congress Deccan Herald which praised Sonia Gandhi for resigning saying that ?with her action she has not only captured the moral high ground but also made a smart political statement? nevertheless was critical of the Congress Party which it said ?needs to clarify why it was considering an Ordinance on the matter, in the first place?. ?The steps the government and the (Congress) party took on March 22 to clear the way for an Ordinance?it abruptly ended the parliamentary session in order to be able to do so?revealed that it was ready to ignore parliamentary propriety and democratic conventions to save its leaders and to protect their position and privileges? the paper noted.

The paper added that ?while Smt Gandhi?s resignation might serve to deflect the country?s attention away from the party?s shoddy conduct and the gesture alone will not suffice in the long run?. So true. Many papers noted that the action first taken against Smt Jaya Bachchan smacked of revenge on the part of the Gandhi family. The Hindu (March 24) carried a report from J.Venkatesan describing what constituted an ?office of profit?. The Supreme Court, said the article, in the Shibu Suren case had made it clear that ?even if the holder of office does not draw a salary, he or she will be deemed to hold an office of profit if the office carries some remuneration or pecuniary benefits?, but as of March 24 no newspaper made a detailed analysis of how much was being paid to whom and on what basis. Many Committee members get paid sitting fees for attending a committee which can hardly be called ?profit?. The very word ?profit? is silly. Getting ?sitting fee? is not going to make any MP change his vote. And in any event a sitting fee can?t be all that high to make an MP say, one from the Opposition, change his or her mind to vote for the party in power.

But, of date, the most thoughtful editorial was the one written by The Hindu. The paper conceded that ?whether it was a purely self-denying move or shrewdly calculated political strategy? Sonia Gandhi?s resignation from the Lok Sabha ?served to remove the sting from the Opposition charge that the United Progressive Alliance Government was going to extraordinary lengths to save her from disqualification?. Nevertheless, said the paper, ?upto the point of her resignation, the Government?s handling of the office of profit smacked of clumsiness, even impropriety?. It added: ?First, it got Parliament adjourned abruptly, obviously to clear the way for an Ordinance. Secondly, while it did not bestirs itself when the Samajwadi Party member Jaya Bachchan was seemed to have panicked to the prospect of many other members cutting across parties holding similar offices meeting the same fate?. The paper said that the handling of the issue itself was marked ?not by open discussion, but by secrecy that was strange in an administration that has held out the Right to Information Act as a demonstration of its commitment to transparency and good government?.

The paper said that ?it is time for a serious and non-partisan look at the issue of disqualification itself?. It noted that although the term ?office of profit? is not defined in the Constitution the Supreme Court had laid down three broad principles. First, it should be an office under the Central or a State Government performing duties for the government...Second it must result in some profit over and above meeting the expenses involved in discharging the duties. Thirdly, Parliament has the power to exempt any specific office from the disqualification and this can be done retrospectively as well. What has been not noted is why, in all these years, the political parties had not given ant thought to this issue. Admittedly the Parliament has many lawyers of note. Why didn?t they give this subject some deep thought and have the Disqualification Act struck down? How unmindful can our Parliamentarians?and our political parties?be? Instead of gloating over Jaya Bachchan?s disqualification, the Congress Party should have taken immediate steps to see that she retains her chairmanship of some minor committee of no particular importance. But revenge seems to have been the motive and it has plainly backfired. This is a matter for not just the UPA Government but for all political parties to sit together and behave like adults. The immediate demand is to change the law and not to invite MPs resignations.

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