A team of YSRCP MPs led by Rajya Sabha MP Vijaysai Reddy met Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and handed over a disqualification petition against Narasapuram MP Raghurama Krishna Raju.
Earlier in the day, YSRCP MPs including Nandigama Suresh, Margani Bharat Ram, Mithun Reddy and Lavu Sri Krishna Devarayalu left to New Delhi in a special flight from Vijayawada. The MPs complained to the Lok Sabha Speaker that Raju was indulging in anti-party activities. Along with the disqualification petition, the YSRCP MPs also submitted soft copies of Raju’s media statements to strengthen their argument that the Narsapuram Lok Sabha MP was Raju making anti-party remarks to lower the party’s public image.
A show-cause notice was already issued against Raju who questioned its legal sanctity as it was issued under the letter head of YSR Congress Party and not under the letter head of Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party which is the registered name with the Election Commission of India.
But, can the YSRCP leadership disqualify Raju and under what grounds?
Under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, known as the Anti-Defection Law, an elected member of the Parliament can be disqualified on the ground of defection if she/he voluntarily relinquishes her/his membership of the political party. Further, a member of the House can be disqualified if the member switches parties or abstains from voting in the House or votes against the party’s directions defying the party whip.
Raju cannot be disqualified simply because he aired his views or suggestions to the YSRCP. Raju also exuded confidence that he cannot be disqualified. On Thursday, Raju stated, “The MPs and lawyers are meeting the Lok Sabha Speaker with the consent of the Chief Minister. MPs and lawyers flying from Vijayawada to Delhi to meet the Lok Sabha Speaker is a wasteful expenditure and an exercise in futility. The MPs are wasting taxpayers money,” he took potshots.
Raju has not been seeing eye-to-eye with the policy decisions of the Jagan government. He was highly critical of the Andhra Pradesh government’s move to implement English medium in government schools and also raised the issue in Parliament seeking protection of Telugu language and Centre’s intervention in ensuring teaching in mother tongue in primary classes. Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy took a serious view as this flew in the face of his government’s decision to introduce English medium in government schools for classes I to VI.
As a matter of fact, Vijaysai Reddy in his show-cause notice had also mentioned that Raju had opposed the English medium instruction in the government schools in a discussion in Parliament. However, Raju’s stated position for opposing English medium in government schools was on the ground that it is anti-Constitutional. Clever as he is, Raju had stated, “My opposition to English medium in government schools was to uphold the spirit of the Constitution of India. Nothing can be above the Constitution of India, whether a political party or its manifesto.”
Therefore, this cannot be a ground for the YSRCP leadership to disqualify as the Constitution guarantees free speech to members of Parliament to express their opinions freely and without fear in the larger interests of the public they represent. In the Kihoto Hollohan v. Zachillhu case, the Supreme Court opined that “Often the views expressed by the members in the House have resulted in substantial modification and even the withdrawal of the proposal under consideration. Debate and expression of different opinions serve an essential and healthy purpose in the functioning of Parliamentary Democracy.”
However, Raju can be disqualified if the YSRCP can prove beyond reasonable doubt that he had lowered the party’s public image or undermined its public confidence. This is one of the key reasons why Vijaysai Reddy, in his 16-page show cause notice, had attached newspaper clippings to buttress the point that Raju’s media statements were lowering the image of the party in the public. However, Raju had always maintained that his statements were never anti-party or anti-Jagan Mohan Reddy.
Raju had used carefully worded statements. Raju was smart in his criticism whether opposing the TTD’s move to sell temple assets or on the issue of English medium. Nowhere he tried to directly attack the party or Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy thereby giving no chance to the YSRCP leadership to disqualify him on the ground of lowering the party’s public image.
Raju had often stated that he had expressed his views not to embarrass the public image of the party, but the contrary. He always contended that he had to take the media platform to raise certain issues since he was not getting an audience with Jagan Mohan Reddy.
Further, he also argued that he had raised issues such as the proposed sale of certain Tirumala assets because such a move will hurt the image of the party in the public. On the issue of English medium, he argued against it as he owes allegiance to the Constitution of India. On the issue of illegal sand mining in Andhra Pradesh, Raju had always stated that he had raised the issue because it was lowering the party’s image in public.
Raju also admitted on Times Now debate that conversions are rampant in Andhra Pradesh with the money power of Christian missionaries but clearly defended the government saying it was not limited to Andhra Pradesh alone and prevalent across the country. “It is not a recent phenomenon. The government is not involved. It happened even before this government came to power,” he had stated.
Raju seems to have thoroughly studied the previous cases of disqualification. His advisors too must have apprised him of the earlier members who were disqualified. For instance, former JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav was disqualified from the Rajya Sabha after he openly rebelled against Nitish Kumar. Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) faction moved an anti-defection petition against Sharad Yadav requesting Venkaiah Naidu to cancel his House membership. Nitish Kumar’s faction had submitted proof of Sharad Yadav’s “anti-party activities” such as participating in Lalu Prasad’s ‘BJP bhagao, desh bachao’ Patna rally.
Nitish Kumar’s team had submitted soft copies of Sharad Yadav’s public statements where he spoke against the party line. Now, this leaves the YSRCP to either suspend or expel Raju. This will not bother Raju as much as the YSRCP. Raju will continue to remain in the party and continue to be the Lok Sabha MP for the next four years, something that may not go down too well with the YSRCP. Raju may continue to be troublesome for the YSRCP. It is a tricky situation for the YSRCP to expel or suspend Raju who enjoys good equations with the central BJP leadership.
Raju had hosted a lavish dinner in New Delhi which saw the attendance of several central ministers and BJP’s top brass. Raju had also invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president and Union home minister Amit Shah for the dinner. Eversince Raju hosted a farewell party to MPs after the Parliament winter session in 2019, relations have soured with Jagan. It remains to be seen if the YSRCP expels or suspends Raju, something that the LS Member is well aware of.