Don't sign ordinance on convicted lawmakers, BJP urges president

New Delhi, Sep 26 (IANS) BJP leaders Thursday met President Pranab Mukherjee and urged him not to sign the ordinance approved by the cabinet to save convicted lawmakers from immediate disqualification as it was "unconstitutional".

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani, leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley and leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj gave the president a memorandum detailing their party's objections to the ordinance.

"The ordinance is illegal, immoral and unconstitutional. We urged the president not to sign it and return it to the government," Swaraj told mediapersons after the meeting. She contended that the president was not bound to sign an ordinance which was unconstitutional.

The decision on the ordinance has put the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the risk of political isolation on the issue of criminalisation of politics ahead of the crucial assembly polls to five states this year and the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist has opposed the ordinance while the Aam Aadmi Party has said it will file a public interest litigation on the issue.

Reflecting differences within the Congress on the issue, two Congress leaders Thursday voiced their concern over the ordinance.

"Government's ordinance negating SC (Supreme Court) order on convicted MPs/MLAs will greatly damage the poll prospects of the Congress in the coming assembly elections," said Anil Shastri in his tweet message.

Minister of State for IT and Communications Milind Deora also tweeted: "Legalities aside, allowing convicted MPs/MLAs to retain seats in the midst of an appeal can endanger already eroding public faith in democracy."

The BJP appears to be gearing up to raise the issue electorally in the upcoming polls with its memorandum talking about the need for probity in public life.

Swaraj said the president told the BJP leaders that he would examine their demand and then take a decision.

Answering a query, she said it was wrong to state the BJP had agreed to support the bill brought by the government to prevent convicted lawmakers from disqualification. She said the BJP had said the bill should be sent to the standing committee.

The Supreme Court had July 10 struck down a provision of the Representation of People Act that allows a convicted member of parliament or a state legislature to continue membership for a three-month period for filing an appeal to a higher court and get a stay on the conviction.

Sources said the ordinance, approved by the government Tuesday, negates the apex court order on immediate disqualification of convicted lawmakers and allows them to continue in their position if their appeal is admitted in higher courts within the same interval. However, the lawmaker cannot draw his salary or vote in the process of law making.

Sources said United Progressive Alliance government had repeatedly taken ordinance route since 2009. The government also brought an ordinance on food security bill.

Advani said the bill was prima facie unconstitutional and twice referred to Swaraj for raising objections to the ordinance Wednesday. The party's memorandum, however, was almost a duplicate of the article released by Jaitley a few hours earlier.

The memorandum raised questions on a convicted person being a lawmaker and said people expect such a person to be in prison.

It said these were concerns based on probity, ethics and morality.

"The presumption of innocence cannot apply once conviction has already taken place ... even though he cannot vote, his participation in debates certainly influences the course of law making," the memorandum said.

It said provision concerning lawmakers has been justified on the ground that an elected person is a class apart - a separate class from an ordinarily convicted person.

The memorandum said procedurally it was wrong to bring an ordinance in a matter which is pending before the standing committee.

"The proposed Ordinance amending section 8(4) of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951 is as unconstitutional as the original section 8(4) ... Your Excellency should, therefore, refer this Ordinance back to the government," the memorandum said.

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