Government tonight faced questions from President Pranab Mukherjee over the need for an ordinance on convicted lawmakers when he called three ministers seeking the rationale behind it while opposition parties stepped up their attack on the issue.
Voices of dissent also cropped up in Congress.
Mukherjee, to whom the ordinance cleared by the Union Cabinet on Tuesday, was referred called Home Minister and Leader of the House in Lok Sabha Sushilkumar Shinde, Law Minister Kapil Sibal and later Parliamentary Affairs minister Kamal Nath.
The ordinance seeks to negate the Supreme Court judgement striking down a provision in the electoral law that protected MPs and MLAs convicted for serious crimes from immediate disqualification.
The President is said to be not in a hurry to give his assent to the ordinance and reportedly wants the government to explain the need for an ordinance on an issue that has come under attack from mainstream opposition parties and civil society.
Mukherjee may take legal opinion from experts before he take a decision on whether to give assent.
Under the Constitution, the satisfaction of the President must be as to existence of circumstances which render it necessary for him to promulgate an ordinance. He can send the ordinance back to the government for re-consideration and shall act in accordance with the advice tendered by the government after such re-consideration.
There was no official word from the government on the discussions the ministers had with the President. But the government is believed to have conveyed the need for urgency because there could not be a vacuum in law.
There was a Bill in Parliament on the issue and since it could not be passed during the monsoon session, the government had to come out with this ordinance urgently, sources in the government said.
The ministers meetings with the President came after a high-level BJP delegation led by L K Advani met the President and urged him to refer the ordinance back to the government for re-consideration as it is "unconstitutional and immoral".
The BJP contended that the President was not duty bound to give assent to the ordinance that seeks to negate a Supreme Court verdict that struck down the provision in the Representation of the People Act deferring disqualification of convicted lawmakers.
Talking to reporters after meeting the President, Advani said, "As Sushma Swaraj has said earlier, this ordinance is prima facie unconstitutional and we oppose it." He added that it has been brought to negate the Supreme Court verdict and to permit convicted MPs to continue in office.
In the memorandum, BJP has pointed out that a bill on the issue is pending in the Rajya Sabha and has been referred by the Chairperson to a Standing Committee.
"What was the urgency that the government was compelled to bring this legislation through the ordinance route? The only compelling reason for bypassing Parliament and taking the ordinance route is to help a class of tainted politicians who have been already convicted or are apprehensive of a court judgement in near future," the memorandum said.
In an embarrassment to UPA, voices of dissent emerged from within Congress over the government's decision to bring an ordinance on convicted lawmakers with Union Minister Milind Deora apprehending that the move "can endanger already eroding public faith in democracy".
Deora is the second Congress leader after party General Secretary Digvijay Singh to have expressed his reservation on the promulgation of the ordinance to undo a Supreme Court judgement.
"Legalities aside allowing convicted MPs/MLAs 2 retain seats in the midst of an appeal can endanger already eroding public faith in democracy," Deora commented on Twitter. His views were shared by another leader Anil Shastri.
The Left parties have already attacked the government on the ordinance issue.
High-level sources in the government said the Congress was not unduly worried about the fate of the ordinance because it had no compulsions. In fact, the sources said the BJP was being immoral by opposing it when one of its own convicted ministers in Gujarat was enjoying the protection from disqualification because of the struck down provision of the electoral law. He was convicted before the Supreme Court's decision.
The sources pointed out that it was BJP which had given its backing to the government at an all-party meeting on August 13 for passage of the bill to negate the apex court's judgement.
The sources in the government also explained that the amended section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act is not the replica of the original clause.
They said the provision added to the section makes it clear "that the MP/MLA shall neither be entitled to vote nor draw salary and allowances".
The sources said what the courts usually say in such cases have been a part of the law.
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