The Economic Times
New Delhi

NEW DELHI: President Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday night summoned Law Minister Kapil Sibal, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath and Leader of the Lok Sabha,Sushil Kumar Shinde, over an ordinance seeking to negate a Supreme Court judgement against convicted legislators.

Mukherjee's move came as a BJP delegation comprising senior leaders LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitleymet him on Thursday evening and urged him to advise the government against what they termed was an unconstitutional legislation.

Voices of dissent against the ordinance cropped up in Congress too. The government had taken the ordinance route after the last session of Parliament failed to pass a legislation framed, following an all-party meeting, to overturn the court verdict. The SC had struck down a provision in the electoral law that protected MPs and MLAs convicted for serious crimes from immediate disqualification.

The ordinance will protect elected MPs and MLAs from immediate disqualification upon conviction for two years for any offence. The July judgement of the Supreme Court had said legislators must be removed from the posts forthwith and had scrapped a provision in the Representation of People Act that offered convicted politicians a three-month window to appeal their convictions and keep their seats while an appeal was pending.

"The moral question being asked is once a provision has been held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court should Indian Parliament exercise its legislative jurisdiction to enable convicted persons to continue as a lawmaker. Even though he cannot vote, his participation in the debates certainly influences the course of law making," said Jaitley, the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha after meeting the President.

Some of Congress' own leaders too struck a divergent note. Congress' minister of state for communications and IT Milind Deora criticised the move in no uncertain terms. "Legalities aside allowing convicted MPs/ MLAs 2 (sic) retain seats in the midst of an appeal can endanger already eroding public faith in democracy," he tweeted on Thursday.

Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh, too, stressed on the need of a political consensus. "In such controversial matters, it is always better to bring about a political consensus rather than pushing through an ordinance," he said. Activists and some politicians have warned that public faith in elected representatives was eroding because of rising criminalisation of politics. The controversial ordinance could hasten the erosion, they warned.

According to the Association of Democratic Reforms, almost 30% of 4,807 MPs and MLAs since 2008 have criminal cases against them.

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