Sonias stunner

Updated: Mar 24 2006, 05:30am hrs
Sonia Gandhis stunning political move has achieved its objective. It has shifted the focus away from her governments extraordinary hypocrisy in indefinitely adjourning Parliament to ensure it could issue a politically advantageous ordinance. A government that till Thursday morning looked as though it had been forced on its back foot has suddenly come roaring back. In the process, not only has Mrs Gandhi turned the tables on the Opposition but, more important, has covered herself with glory. In a country where such gestures have an impact far beyond the immediate act, its as though shes added another ring to the halo acquired after her decision to renounce her claim to Prime Ministership.

The government is now reportedly set to table a Bill on the issue of legislators eligibility for offices of profit. Before Thursday, it would have not been seen as anything other than a move by politicians in power to save their own. Now it will be seen by her party and, more important, by tens of millions of voters, as another indication of a leader willing to sacrifice power for principles, reinforcing her hold on the moral high ground. All the more reason, then, not to lose sight of the basic issue and keep in mind what did happen to make a rush to reclaim the moral ground necessary. When the Congress and the Left were in the opposition during Mr Vajpayees regime, they were vociferous at any attempt to misuse legislative authority for executive benefit. Only to do the same thing: they actually aborted an ongoing session of Parliament as the only practical way, by issuing an ordinance, to save a lot of political skins. The ordinance power is meant for emergency use. They were not only ready to misuse it, but have also set a bad precedent. Future governments will now have a precedent to similarly short-circuit a legislative session, breaching decades of effort to build a political consensus on such matters.

The danger is, the entire drama will cloud the issue thrown up by Wednesdays deplorable proroguing of Parliament: whether legislators can hold offices of profit and if so, the checks and balances needed. It will also push into the background the question of whether the President consulted the government on the reference to the Election Commission in the original Jaya Bachchan office-for-profit charge and on its subsequent advice. His powers are only supposed to be used on ministerial advice. So did he or did not seek such advice Mrs Gandhis resignation answers none of these far more fundamental questions.