People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 06, 2006
SITARAM YECHURY’S SPEECH IN RAJYA SABHA
OFFICE OF PROFIT ISSUE
‘Work For A Permanent Solution’
The following are excerpts of the speech made by CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury while participating in the discussion on The Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Bill, 2006 in Rajya Sabha on July 27, 2006
I SUPPORT the Bill the same way in which we had done last time when it came up for consideration. But on the last occasion as well we did put a caveat for our support and I repeat that caveat which, I think, has become more relevant now with the presidential reference and the points that the president of India has asked us to consider. And, this caveat concerns the fact that there is a need – I repeat and underline – for us to unambiguously define what is an office of profit. This has been a lacuna that has remained with us all these decades which needs to be corrected. Therefore, I would support this Bill with an assurance from the government that there should be a parliamentary committee that must go into all these details and draw up an unambiguous list so that it can be applicable across the country and in all positions and that is something that must accompany the passage of this Bill. And that, I think, will also meet, to a large extent, what the president has also sent in his reference to us.
But, various issues have been raised regarding the constitutionality of this Bill. I do not wish to go into that, because, I think, legal luminaries have debated that issue. But I can only say, as a member of parliament, I think, Article 102 of the Constitution is very, very explicit. It asks the parliament, by law, to define which are offices of profit and which are not. So, I think, on that basis, the constitutionality is not really an issue. I heard Arun Jaitley saying they were against this Bill from day one. But when he talks of morality, the yardsticks cannot be different for Delhi and Jharkhand!
We hold the president of India and the institution in very high respect. All of us do. We have to. I mean, that is a part of the system. But, wasn’t that the office of the highest constitutional authority – to quote what Jaitley was talking about – when president K R Narayanan asked for stoppage of genocide in Gujarat. Was any respect shown to him then?
I am raising this issue not to score points. I am raising this issue to state that there has to be a certain degree of consistency when you speak of principles. There has to be consistency when you talk of this law being misused in order to save the Jharkhand government. There has to be consistency when you hold in respect the office of president of India; the same consistency must be shown.
So do not change your principles according to your parties and politics. That is the appeal that I have. Let us all stick to these positions of principle and on that basis let us advance and work for the well being of the country and its future.
There have been allegations that my Party is very interested to save the faces behind these posts; and, in order to save these faces we are in a great hurry to bring this legislation today, and, therefore, we have delayed the discussion on the Mumbai blasts. We have, in fact, in the business advisory committee (BAC) stated that the issue of Mumbai blasts must come before and got it listed yesterday. And, why the discussion could not be completed yesterday, all of us know that. I am not going into that. So don’t trade charges like this. That is not the issue. Everyone of us, sitting here, know that July 31 is the day by which the election commission has asked for replies. Yes, it’s a quasi judicial body; it has to serve notices; listen to these MPs. So, nobody is going to be disqualified on July 31. There is no great hurry to bring this Bill before July 31. Nothing is going to happen on 31st. But the hurry was regarding the respect to the president of India that you have raised yourselves.
I am upholding the reference that the president has made. He has asked for an unambiguous definition that will be applicable universally. That is precisely what I said last time, when I was speaking on this Bill. And, this is precisely what I am repeating now. That is the caveat that we urged the government that along with the passage of the Bill, that announcement will have also to be made for the mechanism to work out so that we draw these definitions. I am very happy that Marx was quoted from that side. It’s actually a little enlightening. But the quotation is also in the wrong context. I will also come to that in a while. We want to go on record, I said this earlier and I am saying it again that we do not see any contradiction between holding some of these posts as well as being a member of parliament. I think, some of them, will have to discharge other responsibilities to provide relief and service to the people. They will have to occupy some post. That is why I do not see anything objectionable in that. The case is being made as if we are supporting the Bill to save face and that profit is the motive. Our colleague, Matilal Sarkar, is here. He is the chairman of the Tripura Village and Khadi Industries Board. Why did we decide that a member of parliament should be there? It is our Party in the state government. But why did we decide? Tripura is a small state, which has a small budget, which does not have much resources. They do not want to depute another person and pay for this entire charges for every month coming here. Instead, they said, and we said, that we would use our MP for that purpose. It is not profit. It is not an office of profit; it is an office of service. If a person has to travel from Agartala to Delhi every month, if you compute, it is a substantial relief we can provide to the people of Tripura by duplicating our MP in that post. We provide relief to the people of Tripura. Therefore, in principle, we do not think this is wrong.
Moinul Hassan is here. He is also chairman of the Small Industries Development Corporation. If you talk of the conflict of interest, this disqualification comes from two counts or possibilities. One is that while holding these posts they are able to influence voters, thereby, they are doing a wrong thing. Therefore, they will be liable to be disqualified. But, this would come under the Election Petition Law. That is a separate thing. The other conflict of interest is, as a legislator, their job is to keep the executive in check. Therefore, he/she should not be subservient to the executive. That is the conflict of interest that arises in these positions. By being chairman of this Small Industries Development Corporation in Bengal, how is he becoming subservient to the executive here? Therefore, when you talk of these principles, then, you talk of the tangible issues involved. You cannot really club all these things and, somehow, try to portray that all these people are violating the Constitution, they are profiteers, and they are people who are immoral. If that sort of a logic has been brought about, then, I think, it is extremely unreasonable and incorrect. If you really want to now talk in terms of actually resolving this conflict of interest, I would like to raise this issue and I want this august House to debate this point. Does the conflict of interest between the executive and the legislature arise only when the legislators hold government positions? Does it not arise when they hold private positions or corporate positions? For instance, in the United States if you are a Senator, then, till the term of the Senator, you cannot be on the Board of Directors of any corporate. Must we not, today, discuss that issue before us? Can we have professionals, who as members of parliament, can appear on behalf of somebody at the bar? I am not opining on it. I am raising that issue. If you are talking of morality, you have to talk about all these issues. Therefore, I want an empowered committee to go into these issues. And, then, let us define, for India, for Indian morality, for the sake of upholding our morality, unambiguously, which are the positions, both in private and public sectors and the corporate world that members of parliament should not hold. We should prepare a list that these are the offices of profit that cannot be held by members of parliament and only then we will be doing justice to the query that the president of India has sent us.
I am only concluding by making this request to the government that ‘yes’ we are for the passage of this Bill. Please, let me assure my friends in the opposition – we have shown in the past too – that the only thing is that if we are disqualified, we will come back elected with a greater number of votes. Don’t you worry about it. I have told you in plain English that I don’t consider these as offices of profit. I consider these as offices of service. And, I say this, and it is on that basis I am making my position. You may disagree. You have the right. Please do it. But the point is, whether I am right or not, whether my interpretation is right or not is not the law. The law has to be made. The definition has to be made. Let us now announce that a committee will make this definition, and, draw up this unambiguous definition so that in future this problem may not occur. This Bill is only a one-time solution. This cannot be a permanent solution and let us work for that permanent solution. With this caveat, I support this Bill.