It was a rare moment — in 2006, when Union coal minister Shibu Soren was absconding, the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was so frustrated that he even contemplated leaving office, according to Congress insiders.

The minister was facing criminal charges in a kidnapping and murder case. Singh, watching the Rajya Sabha proceedings from his parliamentary office, amid furore on the floor, heard Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) veteran Murali Manohar Joshi quip, ”Both the PM and his minister are not available here.”

As Singh hardened his stand, Soren was “asked” to resign in 24 hours (he was later arrested).

But Murasoli Maran was not so lucky. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader and industry minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was literally picked up from his bedroom by Tamil Nadu police in 2001 as the J Jayalalithaa government extracted her revenge from her arch0rivals. TR Baalu (environment minister in Vajpayee Cabinet) too was arrested.

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On Friday, BJP minister Narayan Rane became the third sitting minister, after Balu and Maran, to be arrested by the Maharashtra police for saying he wanted to slap chief minister Uddhav Thackeray.

Rane could have possibly avoided the immediate arrest if he were present inside Parliament. As per the rules, any arrest inside the Parliament is strictly prohibited.

The arrest of MPs

The closest encounter between police and a sitting MP in Parliament took place in 2005 when dreaded criminal-turned-political leader Md. Shahabuddin came to attend Parliament. The police, under the court’s direction, waited patiently and arrested him outside the Parliament.

In civil cases, a lawmaker can’t be arrested “during the continuance of a joint sitting, meeting, conference or joint committee of the Houses of Parliament or, Houses of the State Legislature, as the case may be,” as defined in Section 135 of the Code of Civil Procedure. But as Rane is arrested for an alleged criminal offence, the window of arrest is not applicable.

While Union ministers or MPs don’t enjoy any privilege against arrest and can be detained or arrested like any other person, the rules of Rajya Sabha (Rane is a member of the Upper House) say that the Chairman should be “immediately” informed about the reasons for such arrest.

Rule 222A says, “When a member is arrested on a criminal charge or for a criminal offence or is sentenced to imprisonment by a court or is detained under an executive order, the committing judge, magistrate or executive authority, as the case may be, shall immediately intimate such fact to the Chairman indicating the reasons for the arrest, detention or conviction, as the case may be as also the place of detention or imprisonment of the member in the appropriate form set out in the Second Schedule.”

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A senior Rajya Sabha official confirmed, “Maharashtra police has informed Chairman Venkaiah Naidu of the arrest of Rane late Tuesday evening.”

While the minister has to fight his case like any other civilian arrested by the police, Rane, however, has an option which he can use against any mistreatment by the Maharashtra police: The privileges committee.

There have been several cases, when an MP has filed complaint against police “high handedness” to the privileges committee of their respective House. While the panel can’t take any disciplinary action against the concerned cop, it can reprimand police and caution him.

Even former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was arrested in 1977 by the police after she was accused of corruption by then Janata Dal government. In a rare occurrence, the former PM was accused of corruption and forgery and the Lok Sabha, after a 15-hour-long debate decided to expel her and committed her to jail. Her jail term, the House ruled by Janata Dal decided, would be coterminous with the end of term of the Lok Sabha.

In Rane’s case, a bulletin has been issued by the Rajya Sabha communicating his arrest.

The implications for a minister

But if Rane is charge-sheeted, the ruling BJP government might face a moral dilemma. In 2014, a verdict of the Supreme Court had maintained that charge-sheeted persons facing trials should not be included in the council of ministers even as the court underlined that the Constitution, however, doesn’t impose any such restriction.

Article 75 of the Indian Constitution, that lays down the conditions for formation of the Union council of ministers, doesn’t have any such condition to remain a minister except that “The Minister shall hold office during the pleasure of the President.”

“An arrest is a part of investigation. But the minister has not been charge-sheeted yet. Possibly the police found a fit case to arrest him. But the Union minister has a right to legally continue his duty and fight a legal battle. There is no law that states he can’t continue to be a minister. There have been several examples in the past when a minister continued after being charge-sheeted,” said former Lok Sabha secretary general P Sreedharan.

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