The fate of the Representation of the People (Second Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2013 — with just one sitting left in the Rajya Sabha for the end of the monsoon session — hung in the balance on Friday, with the principal opposition re-thinking its position on it. The Bill, which was to be moved on Thursday in the Rajya Sabha, was postponed to Friday — but it was not taken up again.
For convicted MPs and MLAs — or those who face that possibility, such as, most prominently, Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad Yadav, whose case in the fodder scam is in the final stages in a Ranchi trial court — the BJP changing its mind could prove disastrous to their political career.
Indeed, even as senior RJD MPs had been lobbying, BJP sources said, for early passage of the Bill, their counterparts from the rival Janata Dal (United) had been urging the principal opposition party to block it.
Of course, if the Bill does not go through, it will affect not just the RJD supremo but also many other well-known politicians facing serious charges. In Mr. Yadav’s case, it could directly affect the politics of Bihar: in recent months, even as RJD leaders have been receiving an encouraging response at public rallies in the State, the ruling JD(U) — after its break with the BJP — has been facing an uphill task. The possible conviction of Mr. Yadav — and the ensuing consequences if this Bill is not passed — could certainly tilt the balance in favour of his political rivals.
Two Bills were drafted in the wake of the July 10 Supreme Court judgment that said persons in lawful custody — whether on conviction in a criminal case or otherwise — cannot contest elections. If they happen to be sitting legislators, they will have to resign their seats forthwith.
The first Bill —The Representation of the People (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2013 — dealt with those in lawful custody but not convicted: The Rajya Sabha cleared it on August 27 and the Lok Sabha on Friday. The central argument propounded by those in favour of the Bill is that in politics, false cases are often filed against rivals, and, therefore, mere arrest cannot be sufficient cause for making a legislator resign, or prevent him or her from contesting elections.
Indeed, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley argued that the Supreme Court order empowered a policeman to decide the fate of those seeking to contest elections. “… the police becomes the final arbiter of who can contest and who cannot ... are we going to risk our democracy becoming dependent of the police? Police is a State subject. If the police ... pick up some people on the eve of nominations, then they lose their right to vote; they lose their right to contest.”
The second Bill — The Representation of the People (Second Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2013 — says if a sitting MP/MLA is convicted, he or she can continue to be a member of the House “if an appeal ... for revision is filed in respect of the conviction and sentence within ... 90 days from the date of conviction and such conviction or sentence is stayed by the court.” However, from the date of conviction till it is set aside by the court, “the member shall neither be entitled to vote nor draw salary and allowances, but may continue to take part in the proceedings of Parliament or the Legislature.”
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court, while declining to review its July 10 judgment, however, said: “Parliament is free to amend the law if it does not agree with [the] interpretation of law given by the Supreme Court.” But now, with the BJP disinclined to amend the law, the fate of convicted legislators looks uncertain.
The change of heart also coincides with the decision by the UPA government on Thursday to send the RTI (Amendment) Bill, 2013 that sought to keep political parties out of the purview of the RTI Act — after the Central Information Commission had ruled that they are within the ambit — to a Standing Committee of Parliament rather than quickly push it through. Government sources said that on Thursday, Congress president Sonia Gandhi had directed her party colleagues that it would be best to send the Bill to a Standing Committee. This even though initially all parties had been enthusiastic about bringing a Bill to overturn the CIC order.
Congress sources told The Hindu that pressure brought from RTI activists like Aruna Roy, combined with growing public opinion against the political class, as well as individual MPs had finally convinced the Congress’s top leadership that it would be more prudent not to rush the controversial Bill through.