Thursday, March 23, 2006

Keep office and profit

Sonia Gandhi's resignation today from parliament and the chairpersonship of the National Advisory Council looked sudden and dramatic. But it obviously was a well thought out, well-choreographed act. Few, not even L K Advani, would deny they weren't surprised. Don't rule out her children's ingenuity.

In today's political lexicography renunciation finds no mention. Going by current standards she could have stayed on and done worse. On that count, Sonia's decision was a masterstroke.

Nevertheless, Sonia's persona being what it is, the more she gives up, the more she seems to get. The more she moves away from the visible power-centre, more the grip she gets on the remote control. Not all can get away with this. You need to not only time it with clinical precision, but also have an aura -- deserving or not. Because, when you withdraw you also run the risk of being left behind. That could be the end of it all.

In Jaya Bachchan's issue, both the Congress and the opposition lost a golden opportunity to expose the hollowness of Article 102 (a) (i) and the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Act, 1959. The term "office or profit" here refers to a government job the MP or the MLA holds which provides him/her a salary. The spirit of the law is that the legislator should have only one job (of being a lawmaker) so that he/she can devote all the attention to parliament or assembly.

But in today's world the whole idea is so anachronistic.

-- One, the government is not the sole job provider.

-- Two, taking up additional responsibilities is nothing new as long as it doesn't influence or obstruct the primary responsibility of the individual.

-- Three, if having a government job is wrong, then what about lawmakers who have jobs in private companies? What about businessmen like Anil Ambani and Vijay Mallya?

-- Four, if you are going to keep on exempting one post after the other, what will be left? Why not throw away the entire law, since it is obviously irrelevant.

When Madan Mohan Shukla (who can't stand Jaya Bachchan) moved the Election Commission against her over the office of profit issue, not just the Congressmen but all politicians should have had the insight to know that the tremor would grow in amplitude to rock the entire political landscape and devour them all. Of course, they all survive but with lots of egg on their faces.

Politics is all about "the impression that is made in the eyes of public", more than the substance of the issue. While Congress blundered all through, and the opposition looked bareft of ideas and incapable of making any positive move, it's Sonia who emerged victorious -- whether you like it or not. With one move, she seemed to be asking: "So, what is this all about?"