President asks Shinde and Sibal to explain why it is necessary to clear the ordinance in haste

In a move that took the government by surprise, President Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday asked Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Law Minister Kapil Sibal to brief him on why it was considered necessary to clear an ordinance in such haste to protect convicted MPs and MLAs from immediate disqualification.

The President’s query, a day after he received a copy of the ordinance, came even as a string of Congress leaders, too, publicly expressed discomfort with the measure approved earlier this week by the Cabinet, adding to the chorus of naysayers in the Opposition.

On Thursday, a delegation of BJP leaders went to Rashtrapati Bhavan to present a memorandum to Mr. Mukherjee, questioning the timing of and need for the ordinance. Constitutionally, the President has the right to send the ordinance back to the Cabinet once to review its decision. But if the Cabinet sends it back, he will have to sign it.

But if the President chose to send the ordinance back for review, it would be a major snub to the government, Congress sources said.

In fact, Congress leaders Milind Deora, Minister of State for Communications and IT and a close friend of party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, and Anil Shastri, Special Invitee to the Congress Working Committee, tweeted their disquiet. If Mr. Deora’s warning was “Legalities aside allowing convicted MPs/MLAs 2 retain seats in the midst of an appeal can endanger already eroding public faith in democracy,” Mr. Shastri’s offering was “Govt’s ordinance negating SC [Supreme Court] order on convicted MPs/MLAs will greatly damage the poll prospects of Congress in the coming assembly elections.”

This came a day after party general secretary Digvijaya Singh said: “...it would have been better if consensus was arrived at. Maybe, the government had its compulsion.”

It is also learnt that Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit had telephoned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ahead of Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting and told him that such an ordinance would damage the party’s chances in the coming Assembly polls in Delhi.

Officially, the Congress sought to play down the criticism that has left the government red-faced. “We don’t see this as indiscipline,” party spokesperson Raj Babbar said. What they have said is morally right but the government also has the responsibility to protect constitutional rights,” he added.

Meanwhile, the BJP, in its memorandum to the President, has alleged: “The only compelling reason for bypassing Parliament and taking the ordinance route is to help a class of tainted politicians who have already been convicted or are apprehensive of a court judgement in near future. That a government can be pressurised by the logic of the tainted speaks volumes for the lack of integrity of this government.”

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