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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The phantom of the Parliament

After Jaya Bachchan was forced to quit from her Rajya Sabha post because she was accused of holding an office of profit with the Uttar Pradesh Film Development Corporation, a cry went out for more blood to be spilt. Predictably, the Opposition members wanted Sonia Gandhi's scalp on a salver and it made great copy, especially when people sensed another Bachchan-Gandhi tussle was in the making.

Jaya Bachchan had actually given up her post with the UP Film Development Corporation when she was sworn into the Rajya Sabha, so she was well aware that she would lose her post, if she was reinstated at the film corporation. Though, her party spokesperson has revealed interesting information.

Samajwadi Party General Secretary Shahid Siddiqui says that many MPs have resigned offices of profit to get into power and then go back to their old jobs! And what's more, it has happened repeatedly. He points a finger at the current speaker, Somnath Chatterji and says that even he's held offices of profit frequently, while being at another posting.

BJP spokesperson, Prakash Javdekar agrees that this (Jaya Bachchan's disqualification) was done in keeping to the letter of the country's laws but he recommends a review of the law nontheless. He told CNBC-TV18, "When Pramod Mahajan was the advisor to the Prime Minister and when he was chosen for the Rajya Sabha nomination, he resigned from his job because it was definitely an office of profit and prohibited under the law."

If Jaya Bachchan was going to be reinstated, then the Uttar Pradesh government could have atleast repealed the law to save her the embarrassment of being disqualified. This is something that Siddiqui agrees with, and says that she was not given the right advice at the right time and the UP Chief Minister can't be expected to know every law. He adds, "People took things for granted and now we will need to look much deeper into this."

Benefits that Jaya Bachchan was entitled to:
* Free housing and medical treatment for her and her family.
* Free housing in government circuit houses while on tour.

The truth is that though Jaya Bachchan was entitled to compensation and she had not taken it, but the Bhagwat Commission disqualified her on the grounds that she had been "entitled" to it in the first place. Javdekar feels that this being the law, it was correct to follow it so thoroughly. But he agrees that the time has come to look at it and give it a broader meaning.

In the aftermath of this case, Sonia Gandhi holding dual positions as an MP and the chairman of the National Advisory Council of the UPA has also come up. But will any party take it forward? Siddiqui explains that his party has opened Pandora's box and a lot of people will be questioned. Some of them who are already being questioned are Kapila Vatsayan and Minority Committee Chairman Trilochan Singh. He also believes that there is a move to change the law.

So with all parties pointing out people in each others camps, will this be a chaotic massacre? Javdekar doesn't see it that way, but just feels that the "law should be applied to all those who've broken it." He adds, "The Election Commission should not wait for complaints but should just look at the details of all MPs appointed and suo moto start reporting and give the findings to the President."

Written for www.moneycontrol.com

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