New Delhi: Six Indian lawmakers jailed for crimes from extortion to murder are being temporarily freed to participate in a tight no-confidence vote that will decide the fate of the government and a nuclear deal with the United States.
The Indian constitution allows convicted lawmakers to participate in a parliamentary vote. Parties believe the vote could be very close, which means every ballot in the 543-member Indian parliament on Tuesday could be crucial.
If the government loses, early elections will be called and a civilian nuclear deal with the US, over which the government’s communist allies withdrew support, could be buried.
Keen to avoid uncertainty amid rising inflation and signs of economic slowdown, ruling coalition supporters are now knocking on the doors of high security prisons.
The Congress party-led government looks set to gain the most as five jailed lawmakers are members of regional party allies.
One of the most infamous is a Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) lawmaker, Mohammed Shahabuddin, from Bihar. He is serving a life term for murdering a political opponent and faces 40 other cases of murder, abduction and extortion.
A local court granted Shahabuddin bail on Wednesday, on condition he foots his expenses during his two-day stay in New Delhi.
“The court has also asked him to bear the expenses of the policemen who will escort him,” his lawyer Abhay Kumar Ranjan said.
Rajesh Ranjan, another jailed Bihar politician, who broke down in tears when given a life term for murdering a trade unionist in February, finds himself surrounded by party members now.
Ranjan, along with another Bihar lawmaker in prison for murder, will be released for the vote. Both are government allies. Ranjan is still feared in Bihar, political opponents say.
Between them, the duo faces close to 100 criminal cases, but their political leaders are not too bothered, for the moment.
“They are important in the vote of confidence and are happy to be out of prison and spend time with other members in New Delhi,” Ramkripal Yadav, a senior RJD leader told Reuters.
Samajwadi Party, the government’s new parliamentary ally, has two MPs who are in jail. One is Ateeq Ahmed, in jail on charges of murdering a political opponent, has already got bail.
Opposition parties are also busy securing votes.
This week, Umakant Yadav of the opposition Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), got his first political visitor when a state minister opposed to the government arrived on a helicopter to the prison to convince him to vote against the ruling coalition.
Mayawati, his party chief and chief minister of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, did not object when he was arrested on charges of land grabbing. But the scenario has changed now.
“All the six parliamentarians will enjoy a brief freedom for two days and will be escorted back to prison when the voting ends,” an election commission official said.