In choosing not to adopt the ordinance route to bring in anti-corruption measures, the United Progressive Alliance has managed to avoid questions about propriety and legality. It is unlikely that President Pranab Mukherjee could have been persuaded to promulgate ordinances to introduce laws that Parliament had the opportunity, but not the will, to enact. If the government had gone ahead, Mr. Mukherjee might have asked for reconsideration of the advice, causing embarrassment to the ruling party, especially its vice-president Rahul Gandhi. In the circumstances, it was surprising that the ordinance route was considered at all. It is true that several good measures fell by the wayside in the din and chaos of the final Parliament session. Yet, the undemocratic ordinance route is not a proper substitute for sound legislative management to which both the government and the Opposition have to contribute. With the Opposition not ready to keep Parliament in session indefinitely, the Houses adjourned sine die on February 21 and the session was prorogued a week later. With the country in election mode, issuing ordinances with the sole purpose of enacting laws that Mr. Gandhi was keen on would have been seen as politically partisan and constitutionally improper. The power to promulgate ordinances should be used sparingly and only when the urgency is manifestly clear and when there is a real possibility of the legislature reconvening in time to provide the requisite approval. The composition of the next Lok Sabha as well as the level of support for any given bill are likely to be vastly different.
The set of anti-graft measures contemplated, no doubt constitutes a serious and organised effort to combat corruption. And none can find fault with Mr. Gandhi for bestowing attention on it. Yet, by repeatedly hinting in various forums that the government was considering ordinances to introduce these laws ahead of the elections, he gave the impression of pursuing an agenda aimed at bolstering his image as a crusader against corruption. Predictably, some Congress leaders are now blaming the Opposition for the non-passage of these Bills when Parliament was in session. Such criticism fails to take into account the government’s own inability to come up with a credible legislative schedule earlier. The fact that an ordinance is now required to fine-tune the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, and the controversy surrounding the selection of the first Lokpal indicate that even Bills that Parliament found the time to consider and pass are not free of lacunae. Ordinances on issues that require a full discussion, then, are unlikely to be perfect pieces of legislation, and are best avoided in the run-up to a general election.