It was a return of nemesis for the UPA government as President A.P.J Abdul Kalam invoked Article 111 and returned to Parliament the controversial Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Bill, 2006. The Bill sought to exempt 56 posts including that of the Chairperson of the National Advisory Council, a post held by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, from offices of profit.
Returning the Bill, the President said the criteria for application should be fair and reasonable and could be applied to all states and union territories in a clear and transparent manner. Kalam also had reservations about the propriety of applying the law with retrospective effect.
Another important point the President raised was with regard to the posts sought to be exempted by the new law. The implication of including the names of offices for which petitions were already pending, under process by the competent authority should also be addressed by Parliament while reconsidering the Bill, it was suggested.
In one of the most blatant and shameless acts of expediency in free India'spolitical history, the Congress-led UPA bulldozed through Parliament the Bill purely and solely aimed at saving the coalition by exempting from the purview of the Offices of Profit 18 posts held by MPs of the Left parties, on whose support it depends for survival.
One of the primary objectives of the Bill passed by Parliament amid strong opposition from the NDA was to exempt the post of the Chairperson of the National Advisory Council, which was held by Sonia Gandhi and was compelled to quit in the wake of the disqualification of Samajwadi Party member Jaya Bachchan and subsequent petition against her.
The Bill provided a special clause for exempting the NAC Chairperson and among the 55 posts exempted were over a dozen in Tripura and West Bengal where Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee and several other CPI(M) MPs could have attracted disqualification for violating the law on Offices of Profit.
The posts in the Left-ruled West Bengal, which were exempted included the Sriniketan Shantiniketan Development Authority headed by Chatterjee.
The BJP said its stand that the Bill was violative of the Constitution stood vindicated. Party spokesman Arun Jaitley said the President'sdecision was a ?rap on the knuckles? of the UPA government which had converted unconstitutionality into mode of governance.
?The Bill was discriminatory as some individuals had to be protected. The law was immoral because Parliament was legislating not in public interest but in self-interest. There was no rationale why the law should have been made retrospective by 47 years from 1959,? he said.
Addressing a press conference, BJP President Rajnath Singh demanded the resignation of Congress President Sonia Gandhi and that the Election Commission should dispose off at the earliest all the cases related to Offices of Profit pending before it.
Maintaining that the situation that prompted Sonia Gandhi to resign from her Rae Bareli seat was relevant even today, he said, ?The people of Rae Bareli had not asked her to resign. Instead of facing Parliament or the Election Commission, she sought to project herself as a martyr and resigned. But the circumstances or the reasons that prompted her to enact the sacrifice drama have not changed and hence she should resign.?
He said Parliament should take a decision on the issue keeping in mind the intention and spirit of what the President had said.
An NDA delegation led by NDA Convener George Fernandes and Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani called on the Election Commission and urged it to send its recommendations urgently to the President on the disqualification petitions pending before it.
?We asked the Election Commission that while one member is disqualified retrospectively, how another member, similarly placed, can escape disqualification either by resigning or being protected by the efflux of time till a corrective law is promulgated,? Advani said in an apparent reference to Gandhi.
In an obvious reference to Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan'sdisqualification, the NDA memorandum said, ?The discriminatory treatment in respect of Members of Parliament and legislatures by some of them being proceeded against while others are protected will appear to attract provisions of Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution, which provide for equality before the law.?
With the President returning the Bill, the Commission said it would go ahead with the process of considering the disqualification petitions referred to it by President Kalam and state Governors.
In a clear-cut reflection of the Left's?opportunism? and contempt for constitutional bodies, they warned the Election Commission against ?precipitating? the issue of disqualification petitions pending before it taking advantage of the situation caused by the President returning the Bill to Parliament.
Dismissing the contentions raised by Kalam on the issue of uniformity in legislation, CPI leader A.B. Bardhan said that states had their own definitions and lists of offices of profit.
As is wont, Congress overtly maintained that the President had a right to raise queries on any Bill even as the party'sspin doctors wasted no time in floating theories that the President was an NDA appointee and was acting at its behest, allegations distinctly similar to the charges they have levelled against both the Election Commission and the Supreme Court of India, whenever the decisions or verdicts were not in their favour.
Had that been the case, Kalam would not have signed the proclamation dissolving the Bihar Assembly after being woken up at the dead of the night in faraway Moscow even as democratic forces had made up their mind to form a government under the able leadership of Nitish Kumar.
However, the Congress and the government appear to be adamant with the party rejecting the demand for Sonia Gandhi'sresignation and the Law Minister H.R. Bharadwaj asserting that there was no lacunae in the legislation.
Even as the Prime Minister met the President and informed him about the background of the legislation, the Law Minister said if Parliament approved the measure in its present form, then the President would have to give his assent.
Whether the government amends the law or not, it stands exposed again before the people of India with yet another constitutional authority questioning its unconstitutional act.