It will be better if Chidambaram quits the Cabinet.
Union Home Minister, P.Chidambaram, is right when he holds that the Madras High Court’s decision (on June 7, 2012) ordering the deletion of two of the 21 charges of corrupt electoral practices even while commending the 19 other charges is no indictment against him. And that he need not quit the cabinet for that reason. He is also right that the mere pendency of an election petition is no reason for seeking his resignation. There are, after all, 111 such petitions pertaining to the 2009 general elections. Pendency of a petition, certainly, cannot be held as condition precedent for removal of a MP.
If that was how the law was seen, Indira Gandhi would not have remained MP for so many years after 1971 and until Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha declared her election invalid on June 11, 1975. And if that was the case, the emergency would not have been declared. And the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951 would not have been amended to render the fraudulent electoral practices that she employed as legitimate. And a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court could not have set aside Justice Sinha’s verdict disqualifying her as MP! Well all this is history that the nation cannot afford to forget. If so, as it is happening now, we are bound to slip into an abyss and then wait for long before democracy is restored.
Chidambaram’s argument that he need not quit the cabinet in the wake of the Chennai High Court’s decision on a Civil Miscellaneous Petition, indeed, will have to be tested in the moral and the ethical context rather than in the restricted legal sense. It must be added that his status as MP must be decided only after the trial is over and not a day before that. It may appear to be a paradox that in case of Indira Gandhi, Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer allowed her continue as Prime Minister even while not staying the Allahabad High Court verdict; the learned judge, then, rested his decision on Article 75, Clause 5 of the Constitution that lays down that a person shall remain minister of the cabinet only upto six months without being a MP.
Even if that was an anomalous decision, it may be argued that the law as it existed then rendered a sense of legitimacy to the decision at that time. However, seen in the wake of Article 75, Clause 1B, of the Constitution, there are reasons to demand that Chidambaram shall not remain a minister. The law lays down that on disqualification as MP or MLA, under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, a person shall also be disqualified from being a minister. Clause 1B of Article 75 was added to the Constitution by way of the Constitution (91st Amendment) Act, 2003 and is in force with effect from January 1, 2004 and was intended as a check against the amoral practice of party hopping by elected representatives.
Chidambaram may argue that an election petition and the possibility of disqualification as MP is not the same as the amorality involved in defection and hence it is not proper to seek his resignation. But then, democracy is not only about the law in the technical sense but also in a moral sense. And even if morality is considered un-enforceable, there is no way that the law can evade the application of logic. None will disagree that logic remains the key for interpretation of the statute and that the Constitution of our great nation has remained vibrant and meaningful only because it has been subjected to interpretation.
If this is true, let me now argue out a case for Chidambaram’s exit from the Union Cabinet even while stressing that he must continue to grace the Lok Sabha with his active presence. A qualified lawyer like him will indeed add value to the debate if not for anything else and even if his election from Sivaganga is held as void by the Chennai High Court, the damage to the Constitutional scheme will not be as much as it would in the even he remains a minister of the Union. A MP, after all, does not wield as much powers as the Union Home Minister over the law enforcing agencies and the central investigating agencies.
Presuming that the court finds, at some point in the next couple of years, that the Home Minister’s son, Karti, had paid as much as Rs. 20 lakh to one Jayarani and that she had, in turn, disbursed this amount to various members of a SHG and that the money was deposited into several bank accounts just about the time when Chidambaram was busy campaigning for himself in April-May 2009, it will certainly amount to fraudulent electoral practice. In that event, his election to the Lok Sabha, on a slender margin of only 3354 votes is bound to be declared void. Recall that Justice Sinha of the Allahabad High Court had held Indira’s election as void despite the huge margin then; she had won the Rae Bareili elections by a margin of over a lakh votes and not just three and half thousand votes as Chidambaram did from Sivaganga in May 2009!
The point is that his remaining as MP hinges on the Chennai High Court considering the evidence of such bank transfers admissible and in that event his election is bound to be held as void. And the law cannot apply otherwise. It is possible for the bench in the Chennai High Court to look at this simple point in less than a week; trials need not necessarily take years and we have shown this in our own history as to how the trial in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case or in the Parliament attack case were concluded fast. And it is a fact that Chidambaram alone is responsible for the delay in this case. He pulled all the stops to delay the process and the Civil Miscellaneous Petition decided now is clearly one of the legitimate means to delay the process and intended to drag the case until the Lok Sabha’s term ends. In other words, he remains minister as long as that and then employ similar means in another election!
He will not do any such things if he is asked to stay out of the cabinet until the cloud clears. Hence he must quit. And in the event he is cleared of the charges, the nation will not lose much in the interim when he is not a minister. This will not be the case if he is found guilty of the charges; for, he would have remained a minister for longer than the six months that Article 75 (5) of our Constitution allows for.