A high-level committee on electoral reforms,set up by Congress president Sonia Gandhi,supported the Supreme Court ruling on the disqualification of MPs and MLAs immediately upon conviction,only for the party high command to remove this recommendation while sending its suggestions to the Law Commission of India.
The key recommendation,it is learnt,was dropped given a considered view in the top echelons of the ruling party that an idealist stance could displease its present and prospective alliance partners at a time when the Congress is heading into the next general elections with little hope of gaining a majority on its own.
The six-member panel headed by AICC general secretary and former union minister Ambika Soni had recommended that MPs and MLAs should be disqualified immediately upon conviction,as ordered by the apex court in July. While the Centre has filed a review petition in the court,it is also preparing to bring a constitutional amendment to nullify the SC order and ensure that an MP or MLA is not disqualified pending an appeal against conviction.
While the entire political class got together to oppose the courts ruling,the Congress panel struck a discordant note. It submitted 31 recommendations and all except one concerning immediate disqualification upon conviction were accepted by the party leadership.
The six-member committee included Petroleum Minister Veerappa Moily,former union ministers M S Gill and Mani Shankar Aiyar,party MP E M S Natchiappan and Mohan Gopal,director of the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Contemporary Studies and a close aide of party vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
Our recommendation was in line with the Supreme Court judgement,but the party has rejected it. We took an idealistic position,while the party high command has apparently taken a realistic position, a panel member told The Indian Express.
He said the party leadership was of the view that the Congress would get isolated in an election year,if it were to take such a view. While the court ruling does not affect us much,it has a great bearing on many regional parties whose support may be crucial post-elections also, said the member.
To a poser by the Law Commission whether disqualification should be triggered upon conviction,as it exists today,or upon framing of charges by the court or upon presentation of the report by the investigating officer,the Congress replied that the party is in favour of retaining the conviction model even as it acknowledged the widespread demand linking disqualification to a pre-conviction stage of criminal adjudication process.
The ruling party would rather believe that ensuring speedy trial would have a salutary effect on decriminalisation of politics. The party advocated that judiciary be requested to establish special courts to hold trials on a day-to-day basis.
To another question by the commission about whether,in addition to the existing scheme of disqualification,a new statutory provision needs to be inserted for evaluation of fitness of a candidate,the Congress stated that Representation of the People Act be amended to ensure that no ticket is given by any party to any person who was disqualified under the RPA and failure of any party to do so should result in a heavy fine to be imposed on the party concerned.