Arguably Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, Mr. Sharad Pawar and Mr. Prakash Karat have as party presidents all violated electoral law during the presidential poll campaign. Mr. Pawar demanded the resignation of Mr. PA Sangma because he had announced his candidature for the President’s post. Mr. Karat sacked CPI-M leader Mr. Prasenjit Bose for criticizing the party’s decision to support the candidature of Mr. Pranab Mukherjee. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi suspended from the party the tribal leader Mr. Arvind Netam for extending his support to Mr. Sangma.
All three decisions are violative of electoral law and the respective party constitutions. The Election Commission should examine these cases to decide whether such coercion to influence presidential polling is permissible. Presumably in all three cases punitive action was taken on the grounds of discipline because the erring members did not abide by the directive of the respective party president.
But does the party have the right to issue any directive on this election in the form of a command? It may offer a recommendation but not a directive amounting to a command. It may be noted that in the presidential election no party whip may be issued and the voting is by secret ballot. In that sense no candidate strictly speaking can be representing his or her political party. All candidates are expected represent the people of India.
The legislative voters in the presidential election are not expected to represent their parties but their constituencies. The elected President draws his mandate vertically from the grass roots upward. The legislators are expected to reflect the wishes of the people they represent and not their party presidents.
How, then, might any decision pertaining to the presidential election taken by an MP or MLA be deemed undisciplined when electoral law forbids any party from issuing a whip in the presidential election? No choice for voting or participating in the presidential election can be construed as party indiscipline by any party president. Mr. Sangma and Mr. Prasenjit Bose resigned from their respective parties without protest. But one hopes that Mr. Arvind Netam will challenge his suspension by Mr. Sonia Gandhi in a court of law. He should ask the court to examine electoral law and the constitution of the Congress Party to decide whether he has committed any indiscipline to merit his suspension.
Mr. Netam came to my notice during the Jain Hawala case. As a man of honour he had no hesitation in admitting to the police that he had received a donation from the Jain brothers for fighting elections. He did this because he had no guilty conscience. The majority of the politicians who received donations also did so for fighting elections. They considered these donations normal as made during elections. They had no idea that it was hawala money through pro-terrorist conduits. Yet by following wrong legal advice they lied to the police to make themselves vulnerable to coercion. Among the tall leaders only Mr. Devi Lal, and in the initial stages Mr. Sharad Yadav, admitted receiving donations. Subsequently Mr. Yadav under misconceived legal advice retracted. No action was taken by the courts or the police against either Mr. Devi Lal or Mr. Netam. One hopes that Mr. Netam will rise to the occasion and clear the air about what constitutes indiscipline relating to the presidential election.