Cabinet adopts Rahul line, dumps ordinance

Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a function to pay tribute to Mahatma Gandhi and Lal Bahadur

Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a function to pay tribute to Mahatma Gandhi and Lal Bahadur

After days of high drama and overriding objections of a section of its allies, the UPA-2 government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh toed the Rahul Gandhi line on Wednesday and withdrew the controversial ordinance seeking to shield convicted legislators. Going a step further, the government also decided to withdraw the bill referred earlier to a parliamentary standing committee. The recommendation for withdrawal of the ordinance will now be sent to President Pranab Mukherjee.
Emerging from a Cabinet meeting at the PM’s house, minister of state for information and broadcasting Manish Tewari said “the Union Cabinet unanimously decided that the ordinance regarding certain aspects of the Representation of the People Act as well as the bill should be withdrawn”. Mr Tewari said an “appropriate motion will be moved at the appropriate time when Parliament meets” for withdrawal of the bill. The Cabinet had on September 24 cleared the ordinance that sought to negate the July 10 Supreme Court ruling that any legislator would be immediately disqualified if convicted by a court.
The BJP criticised Wednesday’s decision, saying that the “Cabinet had to bow before the dynasty”. In a bid to steal the UPA’s thunder, senior BJP leader Ravishankar Prasad said: “We are happy that our objection to the ordinance resulted in the triumph of democracy.”
The move comes as a major victory for Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who termed the ordinance as “complete nonsense” which he said “should be torn apart and thrown away”. With this, Mr Gandhi emerges as the main player at the national level who is ready to lead the Congress to the 2014 elections. But while this raised the bar for Rahul Gandhi, it also puts a questionmark on the Prime Minister’s authority.
Wednesday was a day of hectic political activity starting with Mr Gandhi meeting the PM at 9.45 am. Mr Gandhi reportedly expressed “regret” over his outburst but stood his ground on opposing the ordinance.
In the 30-minute meeting Mr Gandhi reportedly said he had no desire to “embarrass” the PM and that he and the party had “complete faith in his leadership”.
The writing was on the wall was clear as the Congress core group, which includes party chief Sonia Gandhi, the PM, home minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Ahmed Patel, political adviser to Mrs Gandhi, endorsed the Rahul line and decided that the ordinance should be withdrawn. On September 21, the same core group had decided to go ahead with the ordinance.
President Pranab Mukherjee, who left on a trip to Belgium and Turkey on Wednesday, while meeting the PM before his departure, reportedly said he had “certain reservations” on the ordinance. The President had earlier signalled his reluctance to sign the ordinance and had sought legal advice. Sources said the President felt the ordinance might “not be legally tenable”.
All through Wednesday dissenting voices emerged from the UPA’s allies, particularly the Samajwadi Party and the NCP. It is learnt both parties were miffed over the flip-flop by the Congress and the government. The PM later in the day spoke to the allies and also consulted the attorney-general on the issue. That the NCP was not happy became clear with party spokesman D.P. Tripathi saying: “Rahul Gandhi definitely knows we are his allies, not followers.” NCP chief Sharad Pawar and National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, both Cabinet ministers, voiced concern and resentment over the way Rahul Gandhi had “undermined not merely the Prime Minister, but the entire Cabinet”, sources said. Ajit Singh’s Rahstriya Lok Dal, however, came out in full support of Mr Gandhi’s opposition to the bill.
Despite their objections, however, the allies apparently fell in line later and decided to accept withdrawal of the ordinance at the Cabinet meeting in the evening. It is believed that they did not push their objections beyond a point as there was rising public opinion against the measure.
Mr Manish Tewari, who had earlier lashed out at the Opposition and defended the ordinance, changed tack and said the government had reconsidered the issue after Rahul Gandhi gave his opinion based on the “widest feedback”.

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