In this Idea Exchange,Minister for Communications and Information Technology,and Law and Justice, Kapil Sibal accuses the BJP of not being a constructive but a deceptive opposition,explains what happened over the Bill on convicted legislators,and says youth are the future of the country. The session was moderated by Senior Editor (Legal Affairs) Maneesh Chhibber
The election season is on,but I am a bit concerned about the public discourse that is taking place… What Ive been seeing is a season of complaints and false claims. The Opposition,I’m afraid,is not bringing an agenda on the table a national agenda on which a discourse can take place. On the one hand,the discourse is centered around blame. The UPA has not done this,the UPA has not done that…. Of the false claims that the nirantar virodhi (constant opponent) is making,there is no record… Wherever Ive gone,Ive asked people as to whether they know what the Gujarat model is. I will ask this audience also. Does anybody here know what the Gujarat model is? I dont.
Unni Rajen Shanker: You seem to have coined a new term…
Nirantar virodhi because he is constantly opposing. This is the politics of opposition and not the politics of construction. Its also a politics of deception. Thats why the public discourse is skewed,because we dont know what the alternative is,because in any democracy there must be an alternative space before the people… When I was the Minister for Human Resource Development,I had an ideology,I had an agenda that education must be child-centric. This was known to the people of India. Have you heard the nirantar virodhi talk about education? Has he told us what the agenda for education is as far as the NDA is concerned?
I dont know if he is in sync with the NDA or with his own party. Because he has his own agenda and then his party has an agenda. He doesnt tell us what his ideology is or what his policy on health is. He doesnt tell us what his policy on providing healthcare to the poor is. He has not told us what his economic philosophy is. How does he look at growth? All he has said is Ye galat hai,wo galat hai,aise galat ho raha hai,shauchalaye pehle aane chahiye,devalaye baad mein aayenge (This is wrong,that is wrong,this is happening wrong. Toilets should come first,temples can wait). Its the politics of sound bytes. It is the politics of cults. But this cult will lead to no result.
So we do not have an appropriate discourse in the public domain by the main opposition party and its prime ministerial aspirant. I have got a lot of material with me here which I can share with you about what Gujarat is and what Gujarat was. Growth in Gujarat was much higher before 2004. The growth between 2004 and 2013 has been much lower. What I am amazed at is the fact that the leadership of the BJP is actually publicly touting these false claims. Gujarat is the first to have electricity in every village is a false claim,similar to saying that China spends 20 per cent of its GDP on education. The rate of growth under the NDA regime was 8 per cent is another false claim. Im afraid even the press is not challenging it.
The second is institutional balance,which requires democracy to move forward. This is missing. The parliamentary system has resulted in no significant legislation going forward,no discourse in the last five years on significant issues. A particular leader of a party has said that obstructing Parliament is part of parliamentary democracy. I dont know where he gets that definition from. And this is the ideology of the BJP,as they have demonstrated as the opposition. Remember,the UPA or the NDA government is not a government of the UPA or the NDA,but of the people and for the people. It is not Congress agenda that is being pursued,but the nations agenda.
And theres another burning point. I am happy that the Supreme Court is taking up issues of corruption,but the courts must stand up and say that they will not tolerate the injustice of cases which have languishing in courts for years.
Also,the future is of the young,and the young must be encouraged. Political parties must take forward their younger leadership because they understand the aspirations of the youth in this country.
Last,but not the least,is the social media. It is eminent and will obviously play an important role in the future of India.
Maneesh Chhibber: On two recent legislations the Food Bill and Judicial Appointments Commission Bill the Opposition was on board and then backed out,or so the government claimed. The Opposition is saying that there was never a deal.
I am very disturbed because people who I respected have economised with the truth.
Maneesh Chhibber: Can you name them?
I do not wish to name them. But on August 13,when this issue came up in the Lily Thomas judgment,the Supreme Court said that Parliament has no competence to legislate Section 88 of the Representation of the People Act. There are some constitutional reasons which the Supreme Court gave… But I must tell you what the Act said. If a person is convicted in a court of law,then Section 8 (1) of the Act stipulates certain criminal statutes. Section 8 (1)(a) talks about promoting enmity between people. Then there is the protection of civil rights Act,foreign exchange Act,narcotics Act,and several other Acts including the Prevention of Corruption Act. Suppose you are convicted for two years or five years,then 8 (1) says that you should be disqualified for the period of your sentence,that is five years,plus six years,making it 11 years. 8 (2) refers to certain other Acts such as prevention of hoarding or food adulteration etc,that also says that if you are convicted for a period of not less than six months,then its the period of incarceration plus six years. 8 (3) says if you are convicted under any criminal statute for two years or more,then its the number of years you are convicted plus six years. Now,what did (4) say? Originally,8(4) said that if you are convicted and if you happen to be an MP,then that order will not be in operation for a period of three months. If within three months,you file an appeal,then that order will not be in operation till your appeal is decided. So it gave statutory protection to a person who is convicted and who automatically stands disqualified due to 8 (1),8 (2),8 (3),right? Because the moment you are convicted,you are also disqualified if you happen to be a member of Parliament.
So that was the statutory protection. The Supreme Court said this statutory protection is ultra vires Act 111 and 112 of the Constitution. When this judgment came,we said,Look we should not take a position on this till we consult all the political parties. So we called a meeting on August 13 in which I placed four options before the leaders of all political parties. The first option was to restore 8 (4). The second was to amend 8 (1),8 (2) and 8 (3) to remove the issue of disqualification. The third would be if the conviction is stayed,the affected member would participate in the proceedings,but not vote. The last option was that if the conviction is stayed or sentence is stayed,then the concerned member will only sign the register,but not vote. All except the BJP said we must go for a constitutional amendment. The BJP was represented by both the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Leader in the Rajya Sabha. The Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha (Arun Jaitley) said whatever Sushmaji said is fine. And what did Sushmaji say? Sushma Swaraj agreed to the amendment of 16 (2)(5) and 8 (4) of the Representation of the People Act. She said Parliament is supreme. So she didnt agree with the courts verdict that we have no power. It only can alter basic features,rest we can do. So in this matter we must save the membership of the concerned member but he should not be allowed to take part in the proceedings or to vote this is the sound byte she gave that same day.
In the meantime,Chidambaram said to me,Kapil,maybe we should not go for a constitutional amendment because people may say that we are trying to change the Constitution to protect convicted people. So we gave up the idea of a constitutional amendment,even though all the parties had agreed. Ultimately,I came up with a solution from within the RP Act. Section 98 says if you file an election petition to challenge somebodys election on several grounds,and one of the grounds is corrupt practice,then a judgment of the high court can make an order declaring the election to be void as if no election took place. Now,if the election is void,then the person who is elected already loses his membership. But there is Section 116 B which says if the Supreme Court stays the appeal,the order shall be deemed never to have taken effect. Now,the appeal will be filed 30 days later. And the usual order of stay is passed,and what is declared void is never deemed to have been declared void. So the RP Act itself retroactively protects an MP or MLA even though a high court has held his petition to have been void. Now that was the statutory protection which 8 (4) had given. We didnt want to give that. So I toyed with an idea. And the usual stay order passed here is once the stay is granted,you will not have the right to vote,you will not have the right to salary and allowances,but you will have have the right to participate in the proceedings. This is the usual order passed in these cases. So I said Why shouldnt I incorporate that usual order in 8 (4) instead of a statutory protection?. We said that if he is convicted and then files an appeal,and if the court stays the conviction… then also he will not be allowed to vote,he will not be allowed his salary and allowances,but he will only be allowed to participate… I sought to incorporate it in 8 (4) without statutory protection. If he doesnt get a stay from the court,he is out.
On August 15,I met the Leader of the Opposition of the Rajya Sabha. I said Look,I have rethought on the whole amendment issue and dont think we should do it. Ive spoken to Chidambaram,he also said yes. Why dont I use the usual order and now leave it to the court if the court stays conviction or the court stays sentence,then we can have this. And he said it was an excellent idea. He gave me permission to move the Cabinet. But when I introduced it in the Rajya Sabha on August 30… a BJP member,Rangasayee Ramakrishna,got up and said,My objection is that this will not be sustained in a court of law. What ought to have been done is a constitutional amendment. So while the Leader of the Opposition agreed to oppose the constitutional amendment,his MP said we should have one. The Leader of the Opposition then said we never agreed and Swaraj said you must protect membership. Now I do not expect senior leaders of parties to economise with the truth…
Normally,if anyone opposes a Bill,it goes to the standing committee. But this Bill was not sent to the standing committee,why? Because they all agreed that it should be passed. Again,the Leader of the Opposition was economising with the truth when he made a public statement that it was at our instance that the matter was sent to the standing committee. Actually that matter was sent to the standing committee on September 22. Because when this Bill could not be taken up because they raised this objection of constitutional amendment,there was no time to pass it,so there was a hiatus. So the government thought of the ordinance. We thought that the Bill had not been sent to the standing committee,and if political parties make suggestions,what will we do? So I requested,in a letter written to the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha on September 22,to please send it to the standing committee.
D K Singh: So you are saying is that it wasnt complete nonsense?
Thats a closed chapter. This government has taken a decision,the party has taken a decision and thats a closed chapter. I am only explaining the conduct of the BJP.
Maneesh Chhibber: What about the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill?
I requested him (Jaitley) and he came to my place and I discussed all the terms of the Bill with him. He said fine,and then he opposed it. That is all on record. He himself opposed it,then he talked about some legislative hiatus… The question of hiatus does not arise. The idea was to not let it pass. This is what they have done with every legislation.
Anubhuti Vishnoi: Do you feel disappointed about your Bills across ministries?
Deeply disappointed. Because ultimately,this is the agenda of an entire nation.
Coomi Kapoor: The vice-president of your party has said the youth will be at the forefront in 2014. Does that mean that there will be a place for your present prime minister?
I think the focus of that statement is that young people must come forward and political parties must involve younger elements much more than before. I completely support it.
D K Singh: Are you keen to work in a government of the youth?
I am keen to work with anybody if I am asked to work. I have to first fight and win an election. Then UPA III has to come to power.
Subhomoy Bhattacharjee: Do you think the telecom auctions could go through this fiscal?
100 per cent. 110 per cent,if there is any such thing…
Subhomoy Bhattacharjee: What numbers are you
I have absolutely no doubt (that the market will respond). Lots of people have come to me who are in this sector,and they say we are gung ho about investing. Videocon came the other day and said We are going to invest a huge amount of money.
D K Singh: Why is your party going back to the 1971 slogan of Garibi Hatao?
Its good politics and good economics to really deal with those whose voices are not heard and whose faces are not seen. The unseen and the unheard must be at the heart of any reasonable,sensible,fair political agenda. Inclusive politics is the only way forward. And if any party does not believe in it,that party will not get the votes of those unseen and unheard. And they are the majority of this country. Its also good economics. Why? Because unless you lift those at the bottom of the pyramid,you will not have a strong and healthy nation.
Maneesh Chhibber: What is going to be the big issue in the next election? The BJP says corruption.
The issue is this what is the alternative? What is the alternative that the BJP is providing? After nine years,we dont know what that alternative is. This is the real issue today. In any democratic nation,in any public discourse which is mature,you have an alternative.
D K Singh: We have heard of the Rahul model.
Rahul Gandhi has not talked of models. That only nirantar virodhi has done. Where is it,what is that model? I mean,is it the 2002 Gujarat model?
D K Singh: My point is just that Rahul Gandhi….
Why do you bring Rahul Gandhi into this picture? He has a government behind him that has a policy. And I am telling you what these policies are. Why are you saying Rahul Gandhi,Rahul Gandhi? There is a government of the day,there is a party of the day,which has told you what its policies are. You may agree,you may not agree,you may vote with us,you may not vote with us. But we are clear on what our policies are.
Transcribed by Aneesha Mathur & Siddhartha Gupta