The Supreme Court delivered two judgements in quick succession.
The first Judgement dealt with the question of debarring the candidates who were in police custody from a right to vote and consequently the right to contest. All political parties including the BJP felt that this judgement, if allowed to stand, could be destructive of the democratic process. ‘Law and order’ is a state subject and all the state police has to do is to arrest a few candidates on the eve of filing of nomination papers and subvert the electoral process. The law amending section 62(5) of the Representation of Peoples Act has already been passed.
The second of the two judgements dealt with a more serious issue. Should a person convicted of a criminal offence which entails disqualification of the membership of the Legislature be allowed to continue as a member till his appeal against the conviction is disposed of? The Supreme Court struck down section 8(4) of the Representation of Peoples Act as being violative of the constitutional provisions contained in Article 102 and Article 191 of the Constitution.
On August 13, 2013, the government convened an All Party meeting in the Parliament House. Mrs Sushma Swaraj and I attended that meeting. In the meeting, we were told that the government wanted to discuss a series of issues including the judgement of the Supreme Court in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences case, the disqualification of membership of a convicted legislator under section 8(4), The Judicial Appointment Commission legislation, the judgement of the Supreme Court depriving the right of a jailed person from voting or contesting and measures to be taken for the smooth functioning of both houses of Parliament.
On the issue of a convicted legislator’s right to continue his present membership, various proposals were discussed. At the end of the discussion, the impression conveyed to us was that the government would finalise the proposal and refer the matter to a Standing Committee for formulation of opinion. The government has tried to convey an impression that the BJP was in full support of the legislation which was proposed. In fact, only various options were discussed. I am constrained to set the record straight on account of t his disinformation being spread by the government.
After this meeting, on 15th August, 2013, I was told by the union law minister at the conclusion of the Prime Minister’s speech at the Red Fort on Independence Day, that the government was contemplating a Constitution amendment. This was conveyed to me in the presence of the union finance minister. I expressed my apprehensions at the proposal. My apprehensions were that public opinion would disapprove the fact that Parliament was amending the Constitution in order to enable convicted persons to continue as a law maker. In any case there are no more than a handful of people who fall in this category. We can easily live with this judgement and it was not necessary to amend the Constitution to overrule this judgement. The law minister informed me that he would now start examining if amendment to the law was possible rather than a Constitution amendment.
After a few days, the government conveyed to us that they were contemplating an amendment in section 8(4) of the Representation of Peoples Act. I had examined this matter and consulted various informed persons including several legal experts. My own understanding upon reading of section 8(4) which was being proposed was that such a provision would suffer from the vice of the unconstitutionality which the original section 8(4) suffers. I had conveyed this myself to the law minister.
On Tuesday, the 2nd September, 2013, when the General Body of the BJP Parliamentary Party met, I explained this to my colleagues why this amendment was unconstitutional. I further stated that this was morally unacceptable to a large section of public opinion which found the very idea of enabling convicted persons to continue as law makers as objectionable. The fact that I had raised an objection against this amendment and also the amendment in relation to the non-applicability of the RTI to political parties was widely reported in the media. On the same day the union law minister came to the chamber of Mrs Sushma Swaraj in the Parliament. On receiving the message, I also reached her room. There was at least half an hour discussion/argument between the three of us as to why this amendment to Peoples Representation Act should not be approved.
We felt that it was morally questionable and constitutionally invalid. The Parliament was originally expected to adjourn sine die on 6/9/2013. The sitting of the Parliament was extended by one day to enable the passage of certain Bills including this amendment. Mrs Sushma Swaraj and I categorically informed the government that we were opposed to the passage of this amendment. In view of a divided opinion, the government informed us that this was being referred to a Standing Committee.
We were shocked when the Ordinance was issued even though a Bill was pending consideration before the Standing Committee. We opposed the issuance of the Ordinance on several grounds.
There has been a series of discussions in relation to this Bill. The BJP had opposed it all along and conveyed its opposition to the government. The above is a record of some of those conversations.
I am making the above facts known publicly since a campaign of disinformation has been launched by a beleaguered Government.