Debating India

SONIA RESIGNS

Profit from loss

Friday 31 March 2006

If India can put an end to this unedifying ?office of profit’ controversy, it would gain

Dare we say that there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel vision? The Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs, chaired by the prime minister, has taken two sensible decisions: it has decided, first of all, to reconvene Parliament on May 10 and, secondly, to adopt a consensual approach in evolving a law to address the office of profit issue. Of course, if these very steps had been taken two weeks ago, the country could have been spared some very anxious and embarrassing moments. But that would have required a modicum of common sense and fair play, attributes which do not appear to encumber the treasury benches overmuch.

If the Congress government’s attempt to handle the issue through the devious route of an ordinance smacked of bad faith it should now, belatedly at least, display some maturity in putting an end to a sorry episode in the country’s parliamentary history. What we are suggesting here is the junking of gloat-and-smirk politics. The discomfiture within the BJP over the sudden vulnerability of its government in Jharkhand may be hugely satisfying to the Congress, but it should remember the old adage about glasshouses and stones. Already, the price for the silly oneupmanship over Jaya Bachchan’s disqualification has been paid by the Congress president. It is time then for all actors in this infamous tableau - including the main opposition party - to hunker down and get down to the job at hand.

Three important questions arise out of the present controversy. The first, of course, is what constitutes an office of profit? Is it possible to even define it, given the varying interpretations of the courts and constitutional authorities? Second, does it make practical sense to handle the issue in the way it has been done thus far, by making exemptions to the law depending on persons and circumstances. The list of exemptions over the years has already made a mockery of the law. Third, does the idea of a public office of profit hold water when individuals representing powerful interests in their private capacity do not attract the penalties of the law? What this could - and we use “could” in a qualified manner - call for is shredding a piece of legislation that has outlived its utility. The floor is now with the parliamentarians. It is they who have to solve the conundrum. And then, perhaps, we could profit from last week’s loss of face.

See online : The Indian Express

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