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A Great Statesman

The current government has not bothered about the 91st amendment. Nor about what the Constitution says. It has gone ahead and used the defections of individual members. If Jaitley was in good health, he would have perhaps commented on or questioned this.

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In 2003, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had set up a National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC). Based on some recommendations of the NCRWC, he wanted to curb the defection of individual members. The anti-defection law enacted by Rajiv Gandhi had its focus on parties splitting and splinter group joining another party. 

What the Vajpayee government did in 2003 was to push through the 91st Constitution Amendment Bill which amended the 10th schedule of the Constitution dealing with anti-defection. Jaitley as the law minister piloted the Bill and got it passed. 

I was a Member of Parliament at the time. I remember his speeches at the time. He expressed concern that if a legislator resigns from his membership of either assembly or parliament, and if the ruling party inducts him as a minister, it amounts to individual defection. The 91st amendment Bill prohibited such a possibility.

The current government has not bothered about the 91st amendment. Nor about what the Constitution says. It has gone ahead and used the defections of individual members. If Jaitley was in good health, he would have perhaps commented on or questioned this.

The second occasion was when I was in the PMO and handling the portfolio of atomic energy during 2004-10. We had negotiated the Indo-US nuclear deal. As a follow-up, we had to enact the Nuclear Liability Law. I was piloting the Bill. We did not have a majority to pass the Bill. I went to all the opposition leaders including Arun Jaitley, explained to him the need for the law and the technical features of the amendment. He understood after studying it. 

I appealed to him to support the Bill because it was in the national interest. He said the current Bill may not be acceptable but some changes may be. I asked him to suggest changes. He took the draft and right there scribbled some corrections to it, and told me that if I agreed to those changes, he might be able to convince his party to support the Bill. I accepted those changes and the Nuclear Liability Bill was passed unanimously. It was great statesmanship. He could have blocked the Bill, but he kept the national interest above the party interest.  

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Prithviraj Chavan

The author is a former Chief Minister of Maharashtra

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