To remind the readers about the issue, the apex court had ordered in July this year - disqualification of convicted lawmakers’ memberships from legislatures. The order literally barred tainted and convicted lawmakers from holding public office and also prohibited them continuing their membership of legislatures, if they were proven guilty and sentenced to jail for two years or more. The Union government failingly; in the present context, tried to save the skin of many of its allies and partners. But after Mr. Gandhi’s open outburst and complete rejection, there was not even the faintest of chance of the Union Cabinet sticking to its decision and continuing with the ordinance.
Reacting strongly to Mr. Gandhi’s remarks, the BJP demanded that the Prime Minister must resign. Dr. Singh replied rather coolly and told the Indian media in Washington DC, where he was to have one-to-one meeting with the US President Barack Obama the same day, that he would take up the matter with the Cabinet after returning back to India in the first week of October. Ultimately the ordinance and the bill are withdrawn and the earlier order quashed.
What is happening in New Delhi? On the surface, it may appear that the INC is projecting Mr. Gandhi as a messiah of middle classes and downtrodden and trying to put blame for all failures of the Union government on Dr. Singh who now does not hold much chance of getting the third term, should the UPA return back to power in New Delhi after the 2014 general elections. But this may go wrong. The story may be completely different altogether.
The first possibility is the legal issue in the sense that probably executives had realized that they have overstepped their authority by overruling the Supreme Court (SC) verdict where otherwise the apex court should have full authority. It is also possible that the government’s counsels, the attorney-general and the solicitor-general may not have supported the move that convincingly.
Or minimally, it sets a bad precedent in New Delhi power circle, just like the Shah Bano case in which Rajiv Gandhi-led Union government changed the decision of the SC about the divorcee plaintiff being awarded compensation after separation along with alimony by amending the Constitution. The INC lost the subsequent general elections badly, sure, mostly because of kickback scandal of infamous Bofors case. Corruption would be a very hot and relevant issue in the upcoming elections too.
Had Mr. Gandhi not objected and hypothetically, if the President had returned the ordinance back to the cabinet but the cabinet had resent it to him for signature, the President would have no option but to sign it to make it into a temporary executive law, even if the Cabinet had not change the basic wordings of the ordinance slightly.
The second possibility is that the INC might have calculated the issuing of ordinance costly in its pursuit of seeking mandate in Assemblies and the Parliamentary elections, even if the ordinance stood its legal ground. Obviously, the government was theoretically compelled to overturn the SC order to save skin of some of its allies and partners.
Now there can be a possibility that the government might have reached a quid pro quo arrangement vis-à-vis the SC to save the latter’s verdict and also save its tainted allies and partners for a while. The SC could change the tone of its verdict or minimally give some relaxation to the Union government. But this is possible only with the connivance of the apex court: executives are not that powerful in India. If media reports are to be believed then more than 70 lawmakers in the Parliament could lose their seats after the quashing of the recent government ordinance, once they are convicted. This could create governing crisis and the SC should do something about. On first place, it should bar tainted politicians from contesting the elections but after the elections there should be some discretion about disqualification once they are convicted.
On 30 September, 2013 the CBI trial court hearing the fodder scam has found former Bihar Chief Minister and member of the present Lower House of the Parliament Lalu Prasad Yadav guilty. All other accused are also convicted of looting the public money. As a result, Mr. Yadav can face disqualification from his membership of the Parliament and rigorous imprisonment up to 7 years.
While this may refer to changing political equations in Bihar due to exit of JD(U) from the BJP-led NDA the fact is that it is the trial court which has found Mr. Yadav guilty and not the higher courts where he can appeal. The RJD; Mr. Yadav’s party, can call the INC thankless but the fact is that the Union governments since 2004 had been protecting Mr. Yadav. But it cannot always. The UPA governments have returned his favor of supporting the alliance. While in India, the Union government does have leverage with the Justice Department, the fact is that for political reasons it might not have tried its influence this time. But even if it tries so, the positive results are not guaranteed.
Coming back on the issue, speaking differently, the ordinance would have been otherwise rejected by the SC anyway by reminding the Union government about it trespassing its authority and former unquestionable say on the matter. The government created a degree of uncertainty and ambiguity by questioning the authority of the SC and then appears to have bargained with it. It appears to be a very calculated and shrewd move by Dr. Singh and his team. Mr. Gandhi just helped the cause by gaining something for the party, politically. By all accounts Mr. Gandhi, it appears, has become a seasoned politician and the whole episode shows that Dr. Singh has also mastered the art of political-diplomacy.
The punishment to tainted lawmakers in corruption cases could be partial return of their theft of the public money. The corruption is so universal in India and also in the entire subcontinent that there is little a government can do, no matter how neat its intentions are. Dr. Singh’s government is anyway proven corrupt and involved in so many scams.
Pardoning powerful and saving skins of allies and partners is any way completely normal and acceptable as per Indian laws. As far as Mr. Gandhi is concerned he is senior enough and also arrogant enough to get involved in the decision making. If he was not involved in drafting the ordinance then his mom Sonia Gandhi should have been involved. There is not much point in painting Dr. Singh as a failure with the INC hell bent on seeking minorities’ votes and Dr. Singh is one of them and successful too. There does not appear any chance of Dr. Singh resigning from the office as no INC leader of any worth would demand so from him. Moreover, Dr. Singh has not done anything against the Union government, nor against his party nor against his alliance partners. Therefore, there was no question about him resigning from his post.