Sunday, September 29, 2013

Laloo’s fate to be decided today. What about Bokhariya’s?

Now that the ordinance to overturn the SC order disqualifying MPs and MLAs convicted by a court has virtually been thrown out, the focus of media has shifted to Laloo Prasad Yadav. The Ranchi court will decide his fate today. And rightly, if the court convicts him, he must resign. Babu Bokhariya, the Gujarat Water Resources minister, however is more lucky. He was convicted in June this year, just before the SC verdict came out. Technically, he is not required to resign. And he and his boss, Narendra Modi, have decided to avail of this technicality.

But since the larger debate this SC order, and the entire ordinance follow-up, has raised is about probity in public life, shouldn’t we demand that all people who have convictions standing against them resign and re-contest? Why rely on technicality at all? After all, the BJP has decided to take the high moral ground on this issue, completely ignoring the fact that it is way worse than the Congress on the issue of criminality, with 31% of its MPs/MLAs charged with criminal charges unlike the Congress’s 21%?

Babu Bokhariya was charged with profiting from illegal mining operations with the scam figure put at Rs 54 crores. He was convicted in the crime in June this year by a Porbander court. To be sure, he has already appealed to, and obtained a stay from, a higher court. But like I said, the issue can hardly be one of technicality. If Modi really wants to prove that he is different from the Congress, then shouldn’t he have already sacked Bokhariya? Even if he hasn’t done so yet, shouldn’t he do it now?

Actually, if Modi thought about this for a while, he would realize that Bokhariya would typically be what is called a “low hanging fruit”. A minor sacrifice in Gujarat would give Modi a major talking point on probity. And he surely needs that talking point, as he goes about trying to convince people that he is tough on corruption. Currently, he suffers from an image deficit on this subject. The entire Lok Ayukta issue – having successfully avoided having a Lok Ayukta for 10 good years in his state – didn’t go too well for Modi. Modi did manage to avoid too many charges of corruption coming up against him. But the way he hounded Justice Mehta, and eventually made him decide against becoming the Lok Ayukta, made Modi look insincere about corruption.

But of course, everyone knows the issue is not about probity at all. It is about making an impression on the public at this crucial juncture. The BJP had agreed to support the bill which would have nullified the SC order. But publicly it now claims that it is opposed to the ordinance. See the difference? Opposed to the ordinace, but not opposed to the concept of protecting convicted politicians. That high ground has now been usurped by Rahul Gandhi, and before him, the BJD.

Just in case anyone has any doubts about the BJP’s support for overturning the SC’s order, here’s a piece that will dispel that doubt. On 1st August, Zee News reported this on its website “Political parties united Thursday against a Supreme Court order on criminals in politics and wanted the government to address the issue during the Monsoon Session of Parliament. Leaders belonging to the Left parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) expressed concern over the implications of the court order that disqualifies a legislator if convicted in a criminal case and bars him from contesting the polls if under arrest. They said the government should address the issue as misuse of the law could be rampant just before any election. "We want a discussion on the apex court order," CPI-M leader Basudeb Acharia said after an all-party meeting called by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath. The BJP's Ravi Shankar Prasad, JD-U president Sharad Yadav and RJD chief Lalu Prasad also expressed their concern” (
Its not easy to get a list of current MPs and MLAs actually convicted by the courts. But the TOI on 11th July reported that Pappu Yadav, Shahabuddin, Mitrasen Yadav and Navjot Singh Sidhu would have been disqualified if the SC order had been applicable. A list of others available from Wikipedia lists Om Prakash Chautala (INLD President), Shibu Soren (JMM), Manoj Pradhan (BJP – Odisha) and Mukhtar Ansari (Quami Ekta Dal – UP) as others who probably remain elected representatives (I am not sure of this list though).
The real truth is that while all of us are waxing eloquent about the need to disqualify politicians who are convicted, we should make sure that we be fair in the exercise. The BJP – and to be fair – all other parties need to be grilled for their duplicity. And while we are at it, there is a great opportunity for all parties to proactively sack those who are technically exempt by the SC order, but otherwise deserve to be sacked….

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