President Kalam'sshocking decision to return the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Bill 2006 for reconsideration under Article 111 is a major reprieve for the beleaguered Prime Minister. Though superficially an embarrassment for the UPA regime, the President'srefusal to endorse the wholesale exemption of certain posts from the purview of ?office-of-profit? with retrospective effect, has aborted any plan by Congress president Sonia Gandhi to resume the office of National Advisory Council (NAC) chairperson, with cabinet rank.
This means that Smt Sonia Gandhi was wise to resign as NAC chairperson once the post became legally untenable, and seek re-election from Rai Bareilly, thus protecting her membership of the House. The Presidential snub, however, will effectively checkmate plans by her acolytes to humiliate and unseat Dr. Manmohan Singh in favour of the Italian-born naturalised citizen. For, it is certain that as was the case two years ago, Dr. Kalam would again refuse to swear her in, thus making her political status fairly invidious.
At least in the present Parliament, therefore, it may be safe to assume that we shall be spared the spectre of Sonia as PM. Equally happily, the grandiose plans for launching Amethi MP Rahul Gandhi in a larger-than-life role as ?future PM? has received a setback.
As she ponders these setbacks to her dynastic ambitions, Smt Gandhi may well rue her ill-conceived decision to support Arjun Singh'sbrinkmanship on the issue of 27 per cent quota for OBCs in higher education, and to thwart the efforts of Dr. Manmohan Singh and senior Congress leaders to diffuse the issue. As matters have unfolded, far from bringing any electoral advantage to the Congress party, the issue has recoiled, with the Supreme Court stepping into the fray. Now, the Government will be in a soup over the rationale for the quota quantum, since the National Sample Survey 2003 Round suggests that non-Muslim OBCs are around 32 per cent of the population, while Muslim OBCs are another 4 per cent (total 36 per cent). This tally'swith the 1998 National Family Health Statistics (NFHS) survey which place OBCs (non-Muslim) at 30 per cent of the population.
The intervention by the Supreme Court makes implementation of the OBC quota in 2007 unlikely, and this in turn, may have a doubly negative impact on Congress fortunes in the UP elections next year. Not only will OBCs be unimpressed, upper castes and down-troddens will be alienated, while Muslims are chalking out a new path for themselves. Once again the family arrogance will prove costly. Smt Sonia Gandhi having given sole credit to her son Rahul for her staggering margin of victory, local party leaders will be within their rights to expect Rahul Gandhi to work the same magic in the entire state. After all, a ?national leader? can'thave a base confined to two constituencies!
Meanwhile, the President'sdecision to return the Bill under Article 111 means that Parliament will have to pass the legislation again before it can be sent back to him for approval. Simultaneously, the UPA will have to convince the nation that there is merit in passing the Bill. The Law Ministry will have to prepare ?comprehensive and generic? criteria that is ?fair and reasonable? and applicable in a ?clear and transparent? manner across all States and Union Territories. There can be no question of applying the law retrospective effect from 1959!
Obviously, the Election Commission will now have to take up all pending petitions regarding Office of Profit. Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee would do well to read the writing on the wall and resign, rather than face the ignominy of certain disqualification. The BJP has done well to demand immediate action in this matter, as the Election Commission cannot legitimately protect the seats of Members imperilled by the Presidential action. It is yet to be seen how this move by Dr. Kalam affects the strength of the UPA regime in the Lok Sabha. Certainly, Congress bete noire Amar Singh will have no difficulty returning to the Rajya Sabha along with Smt Jaya Bachchan, whose disqualification set the cat among the pigeons.
The latest twist in the Office of Profit controversy has injected a heavy dose of instability in the UPA regime. The CPM, which is badly affected, is pushing the Government towards an unproductive confrontation with the President, which will impact adversely upon public opinion in the country. Congress MPs who could safely have resigned and sought re-election along with Smt Gandhi were denied the chance to do so on account of her overweening arrogance and insistence upon hogging the limelight. Their tenure in the House is now as good as over, as the Election Commission cannot legitimately wait for the monsoon session of Parliament to save their seats.
The OoP embarrassment has also made it difficult for Smt Gandhi to return to the various NGOs and government bodies she headed, the complete list of which has been concealed from the nation. Nor do we know the remunerations she received, and patronage she exercised through these organisations. When Parliament reconvenes to discuss the OoP issue, it would be in the fitness of things if the Congress president could be persuaded to show transparency and let us know in advance which offices she intends to return to once they are exempted from the office of profit purview.