When everything’s fair in politics

Two days before the trust vote, it’s a political do-or-die situation and MPs have alleged that votes are being bought for up to Rs 25 crore. So is this exchange legal?In 1993, the Congress was accused of paying 10 MPs from Jharkhand and UP to vote in favour of the P V Narasimha Rao government.It was all documented; the Jharkhand MPs even deposited the amount in their bank accounts.”We did not take money. We only took donation. Even those who are taking money today will take as donation for the party,” said Suraj Mandal, former MP.It was a case that went to the Supreme Court. But in a controversial split judgement in 1998 the top court ruled that those MPs who accepted the money did not commit a crime.”By reason of the lucre that they received, they enabled a government to survive. Even so, they are entitled to the protection that the Constitution plainly affords them,” declared SC.The Apex court said that if a crime was committed, it was by those who gave the bribe and one MP who took money but abstained from voting had also committed a crime.Legal experts have strong views on this.”The SC majority judgement in Narasimha Rao case is wrong. Until the SC changes its judgement by a larger bench or Parliament enacts law like in Canada or Britain that bribe is punishable, nothing can happen. Public opinion, intelligent opinion must be gathered,” said Fali Nariman, a Constitution expert.More recently, in the cash for questions scam, the SC upheld Parliament’s expulsion of 11 MPs saying, ”Parliament could use its power for protective purposes, not only for acts done within the House, but also upon anything that lowers the dignity of the House.” So, can the Speaker take action against those who sell their votes for money?”Speaker can appoint a committee. But there must be some allegations and someone should say he paid and received. But if both will keep silent, some sting operation on receiving money can only help but prima facie material should be there,” said Soli Sorabjee, another Constitution expert.The Constitution grants immunity to MPs for anything they say or do in Parliament. But experts argue that if an MP can be expelled for taking money to ask questions in the House, why cannot the same yardstick be applied to those who take bribe to vote.
Arunachalam Vaidyanathan
Sunday, July 20, 2008 (New Delhi)


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