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Sonia resigns after office of profit controversy

Written by: Staff

New Delhi, Mar 23: In a deft move to silence detractors out to discredit her on the As the issue of Parliamentarians and legislators holding offices of profit threatened to snowball into a major controversy, the 59-year-old widow of Rajiv Gandhi, took the sting out of the Opposition's campaign against her by calling it quits.

She, however, made it clear that she would recontest from the Rae Bareli Lok Sabha seat.

In a brief statement she read out to media at her 10, Janpath residence, Ms Gandhi said an atmosphere had been created in the country in the past two days to give an impression that the government and Parliament were "being missued for my cause only." She said "this has hurt me greatly" since she was in public life not for any personal gains but for serving the people of this country and protect its secular values.

The move caught her own party colleagues as well as the Opposition by surprise as it came a day after the Budget Session of Parliament was abruptly adjourned sine die without the traditional recess as media reports suggested that the government might bring in an ordinance on the "Office-of-Profit" issue to prevent the disqualification of Ms Gandhi as well as some top leaders from Parliament for holding positions which gave them pecuniary benefits.

The sword of disqualification from Parliament on Ms Gandhi and other leaders had been hanging ever since Mrs Jaya Bachchan was disqualified from the Rajya Sabha by President A P J Abdul Kalam who accepted the recommendation of the Election Commission in this regard as the Samajwadi Party member is also the Chairperson of the Uttar Pradesh Film Development Council.

Political circles were agog with speculation that Ms Gandhi's resignation might trigger a chain reaction with Parliamentarians and legislators holding offices of profit considering whether they should follow suit.

The resignation came on the day the BJP petitioned President Kalam seeking her disqualification from Lok Sabha on the ground she held an office of profit as Chairperson of NAC. The TDP had already petitioned the President last week in this regard.

Significantly, Chief Election Commissioner B B Tandon said today that the law was same for everybody and he would consider the petition against Ms Gandhi when it was referred by the President.

Acording to Congress sources, Ms Gandhi is understood to have consulted top party leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, before announcing her resignation.

Congress workers besieged her residence as soon the news about her resignation spread. The scenes outside 10, Janpath, were reminiscent of the ones witnessed in May 2004, when she announced her decision not to take over as the Prime Minister after the General elections.

People in Rae Bareli came out into the streets shouting pro-Sonia Gandhi slogans after the news of her resignation from the Lok Sabha seat was announced.

Equating her with former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, locals gathered at the Rae Bareli Congress office and shouted slogans.

Immediately after announcing her decision to resign as MP, Ms Gandhi drove straight to the official residence of Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee and personally handed over her brief resignation letter.

The Prime Minister also accepted Ms Gandhi's resignation as Chairperson of the NAC.

Meanwhile, expressing solidarity with his party President, Mr Gurudas Kamat also announced his resignation as MP and Mumbai Congress chief.

In a statement in Mumbai, Mr Kamat said he had sent his resignation to Ms Gandhi. He also ''appealed to all Congress MPs to prove to the people at large that Congressmen are not hankering for power, but would like to set an example that the party president's loyal soldiers would follow in her footsteps.'' The Union Cabinet, which met here today, did not discuss the issue of bringing in an ordinance on the "Office-of-Profit", according to Parliamentary Affairs Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi.

The Congress President's decision to quit as an MP and as the NAC Chairperson was a fitting reply to the Opposition charge that the government was trying to bail her out from getting disqualified for holding an office of profit, Mr Dasmunsi said.

Refuting the charge that the government had tried to protect Ms Gandhi, Mr Dasmunsi told reporters that the proposal to take some posts out of the ambit of the offices of profit was under consideration following suggestions from several MPs, including Samajwadi Party General Secretary Amar Singh.

It was Mr Amar Singh who first approached the government with a proposal in this regard, he said.

At an investiture ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Prime Minister said the government would consult all Opposition parties if it was to take a decision on promulgating an ordinance to redefine offices of profit.

The Prime Minister declined to comment on Ms Gandhi's resignation but stated that the Congress President had set the highest moral standards in public life.

Ms Gandhi met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and her party's Core Group leaders before she announced her decision to resign as an MP and as Chairperson of the NAC to inform them of her intention to quit. Other leaders were informed of her decision on phone.

By the time she concluded reading out her statement at 10 Janpath,a big crowd of her supporters had gathered outside her residence shouting slogans"Sonia Gandhi Zindabad(long live Sonia Gandhi)"and "Sonia Gandhi sangharsh karo,hum tumhare sath hai(Sonia Gandhi you fight it out,we are with you)" Mrs Gandhi,who had received a tremendous boost to her political career when she declined to become Prime Minister after the UPA coalition Government came to power two years ago in favour of Dr Manmohan Singh, has by her surprise decision today taken the wind out of the sails of the Opposition. The Opposition had yesterday stalled the proceedings of both Houses of Parliament on the plea that the Government wanted to bring an Ordinance to save her from disqualification of her Lok Sabha membership.

The Congress had consistently maintained that Ms Gandhi was not keeping an office of profit by holding Cabinet rank as Chairperson of the National Advisory Council arguing that the Council was of Advisory nature and its recommendations were not binding on the Government.

The BJP Opposition had met the President yesterday urging him not to sign the proposed Ordinance to be issued to redefine the office of profit. The Ordinance, if issued, would save the membership of Parliament of as many as 44 MPs from different parties against whom petitions demanding their disqualification on the ground of holding office of profit. The Opposition had propagated that the proposed ordinance was being brought to beneift Ms Gandhi particularly.

The campaign against Ms Gandhi was triggered off after Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan,wife of cinestar Amitabh Bachchan,was disqualified from her membership of the Rajya Sabha on the ground that she was holding an office of profit as Chairperson of the Uttar Pradesh Film Development Council. SP General Secretary Amar Singh also faced the prospect of disqualification from Rajya Sabha membership.

BJP Spokesman Arun Jaitley said the politics of revenge had recoiled on Mrs Gandhi and her resignation was the result of mounting pressure from various quarters against the Government's move to bring an Ordinance to save her from being disqualified from the Lok Sabha for holding an office of profit.

"She was caught red handed and had become a victim of her own conspiracy notwithstanding the grand stand she has to be taken", he said.

Describing the sine-die adjournment of Parliament an attempt to create conducive atmosphere for issuing the Ordinance, he alleged the Government had subverted the Parliament by this decision.

Asked if the BJP was in favour of amending the law to redefine the office of profit, Mr Jaitley said the party was not for amending the law retrospectively. He, however, refused to comment on individual MPs occupying office of profit because facts of the case were different.

A party delegation earlier had petitioned President A P J Abdul Kalam with a formal complaint against the attempts to save Ms Gandhi from being disqualified through an Ordinance.

The Congress said the resignation of Ms Gandhi was intended to "set things right." Party General Secretary Janardhan Dwivedi told UNI that her action was in tune with the highest values of public life .

He said Ms Gandhi did not want to continue in the posts in the context of some people trying to create an atmosphere as if the Parliament and the government were used to favour her.

When Ms Gandhi made the announcement by reading out a statement in the courtyard of her official residence , her son and Amethi MP Rahul Gandhi was seen standing behind.

Unlike the emotional atmosphere in May 2004 when she made announcement about her decision to renounce prime ministership, the scene was different this time in front of her official residence where there were no mass gathering of party leaders and workers. However, 30 minutes later local party workers had started gathering on the road facing 10 Janpath and shouted slogans in support of Ms Gandhi.

Inside the Janpath residence also, only a few leaders like Ms Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel and Mr Dwivedi and AICC Secretary in charge of media Tom Vadakkan were seen there at the time of the announcement by Ms Gandhi.

Mediapersons had started thronging the Janpath residence of Ms Gandhi by 1430 following a brief SMS message to Congress beat correspondents from the media department that an urgent press statement was to be made there at 1425 hrs.

However, speculation had been rife, since morning, about Ms Gandhi making one more renunciation in her political life.

Ms Gandhi made the appearance before the newsmen at 1510 hrs and read out a two-paragraph statement in Hindi within two minutes. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister Shivraj Patil had already left Ms Gandhi's residence after the meeting with Ms Gandhi.

She did not wait for any questions from the mediapersons, though newsmen managed to put two questions. She replied to one of the two questions on whether she would contest the elections again. While giving an affirmative reply, she evaded the other question on whether the government would bring forward the controversial ordinance to save some more leaders from disqualification for holding offices of profit.

Talking to UNI, Party veteran and Polit Bureau member M K Pandhe said," We dont want them to resign as they are not holding any office of profit, get salary, perks or remuneration," Earlier party stalwarts Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury said," our MPs will not resign. They are ready to get disqualified.'' Mr Pandhe said there was an urgent need that the government should take immediate steps to ensure that the Parliament enact a law to define what is the office of Profit.

On the impact of Ms Gandhi's decision on the political landscape in the country, Mr Pandhe gave an evasive reply." Many a political development is taking place, Let us wait and watch." CPI General Secretary A B Bardhan said Ms Gandhi's resignation re- emphasised the need for a bill which clearly defined the office of profit." For that purpose a political consensus is necessary." On the political impact, CPI national Secretary Shamim Faizi said, this would help the Congress chief who was under severe attack by the BJP, which was out to convince the people of the country that the institutions of Parliament and the government were being "misused" to bail her out of the political storm arisen out of the Office of Profit issue.

RSP leader and Rajya Sabha member Manoj Bhattacharya said this was a peculiar development following the rancour in Parliament and media regarding the office of profit issue." Unfortunately the Constitution has not defined the office of profit by now." He said this was high time that the Parlament enact a law that a similiar situation did not take place again." To my mind, Ms Gandhi holding the office of NAC does not attract any provision of the Disqualification Act. She was holding a temporary office." The RSP leader said Ms Gandhi s resignation was unlikely to influence the politcal scene in the assembly polls next month." This is the internal matter of the Congress, let us see how it works out." The RSP leader did not rule out the possibility of any political development including the mid term polls.

Forward Bloc general Secretary Debvrat Biswas said had the UPA government taken an early initiative to evolve a political consensus, the unfortunate development would not have taken place." the new law should ensure the exemption to the MPs who are holding the offices in the PSUs and the private sector from the purview of the Disqualification Act." Meanwhile, Chief Election Commissioner B B Tandon today denied having received any complaint against AICC President Sonia Gandhi regarding holding of any office of profit.

Mr Tandon, who is in Guwahati, told reporters, ''I have not received any communication from the President of India so far on the issue.'' Asked what will be his action if he received any complaint against Mrs Gandhi from the President, Mr Tandon replied, ''The Law is the same for everybody.''


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