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11 MPs expelled for cash-for-questions scam

K.V. Prasad

BJP, BJD stage walk out in Lok Sabha; punishment disproportionate to offence, says L.K. Advani

— Photo: R.V. Moorthy

WITNESSING HISTORY: The expulsion of 11 MPs on Friday for taking bribes to raise questions highlights the need to restore public trust in elected representatives. These visitors were privileged to witness an act of expiation unprecedented in the hist ory of any parliamentary democracy.

NEW DELHI: Parliament on Friday expelled 11 members — 10 from the Lok Sabha and one from the Rajya Sabha — whose conduct was found to be "unethical and unbecoming" of Members of Parliament.

For the first time in the annals of Parliament, the membership of the 11 MPs was terminated by voice vote, 11 days after the sting operation on the cash-for-questions scam hit the headlines.

The Rajya Sabha agreed with the recommendation of its Ethics Committee while the Lok Sabha endorsed the report of the Pawan Kumar Bansal Committee set up to go into the allegations.

Differences over procedure

Though the thrust of the debate was on acting against corruption, the members differed on the procedure adopted to arrive at the decision. Cracks in the Opposition approach were seen in both the debate and the voting in the Houses.

Of the 10 Lok Sabha MPs whose membership was terminated, five belong to the Bharatiya Janata Party, three to the Bahujan Samaj Party and one each to the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

The BJP and the Biju Janata Dal staged a walkout in the Lok Sabha after Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani said the punishment was disproportionate to the offence. Mr. Advani termed the act of the expelled members "stupidity," as they believed that those carrying out the sting operation were representatives of non-governmental organisations and fell into their trap.

Prior to this, BJP leader Vijay Kumar Malhotra's amendment to refer the issue to the Privileges Committee was negated. Braja Kishore Tripathy said the BJD could not be a party to a House that stood divided.

On the other hand, the Janata Dal (United) questioned the BJP's move with its leader Prabhunath Singh stating that if the principles of morality made the party demand the resignation of Natwar Singh as External Affairs Minister following the Volcker Report, a different approach could not be taken now.

Contrary to the BJP's stand in the Lok Sabha, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Jaswant Singh preferred to go along with the House in expelling Chhattrapal Singh Lodha (BJP). While asking the House to reflect on the "virtually limitless powers" at its disposal, Mr. Jaswant Singh did not want the Rajya Sabha to be divided on the issue; yet, he concurred with the views expressed by the members. At the end of a five-and-a-half hour discussion on the Bansal Committee report, the Lok Sabha passed a resolution, which said: "That this House having taken note of the Report of the Committee to inquire into the allegations of improper conduct on the part of some members, constituted on 12 December, 2005, accepts the findings of the Committee that the conduct of the ten members of [the] Lok Sabha, namely Narendra Kumar Kushawaha, Annasaheb M.K. Patil, Manoj Kumar, Y.G. Mahajan, Pradeep Gandhi, Suresh Chandel, Ramsevak Singh, Lal Chandra Kol, Rajaram Pal and Chandra Pratap Singh, was unethical and unbecoming of members of Parliament and their continuance as members of [the] Lok Sabha is untenable and resolves that they may be expelled from the membership of [the] Lok Sabha."

Painful duty: Pranab

Leader of the Lok Sabha Pranab Mukherjee, moving the resolution, said it was a painful duty to perform.

The Bansal Committee was mandated to evolve its own procedure, and it kept in view the dignity of Parliament as also the mood of the House on the day the members spoke with one voice seeking stringent and immediate action. "There may be implications [of the expulsion decision] but that does not mean we will not take action."

At his customary end of the session press conference, Speaker Somnath Chatterjee said it was a "very sad event" that 10 MPs were expelled. The Privileges Committee had the same powers as any other parliamentary committee, including the ad-hoc panel set up under Mr. Bansal. Mr. Chatterjee said he did not interfere with the committee's work, and it was for the House to take a final view on its recommendation. There was no request from the Bansal Committee seeking more time to submit the report.

PTI reports:

Two of the expelled MPs said they would challenge the decision in court. ``Definitely, we will go to the court.... This was a conspiracy of the Congress,'' Mr. Pradeep Gandhi (BJP) said.

Mr. Rajaram Pal (BSP) asked why the Speaker did not allow him to place the facts before the House. Describing the sting operation and expulsion as a ``big conspiracy'', he said, ``I will go to the public and the court.''

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