Rahul's outburst undermines Sonia
Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi’s outburst against an ordinance to protect convicted politicians has virtually questioned the decision-making authority of party supremo Sonia Gandhi.
The ordinance to negate the July 10 Supreme Court judgment disqualifying lawmakers from the date of their conviction by a trial court was approved by the Congress core group, chaired by Sonia Gandhi, at a meeting on September 21.
Rahul has been silent for more than a month when the issue was being discussed at various levels within the Congress party and the government.
After Rahul’s outburst, Sonia Gandhi reached out to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is on an official visit to the US, to assure him that the party stood by him.
Rahul also sent an email to the prime minister saying he has the “greatest admiration” for Singh’s leadership in extremely difficult circumstances. The ordinance was approved by the Union Cabinet at a meeting on September 24, a day before the prime minister left for the US.
Support within Cong
Interestingly, some Union ministers, who are part of the decision making process, appeared to back Rahul’s stand, thus turning their back to the Cabinet.
“If the party leadership feels that there is a need for a second look, it will tell the government to do that,” External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said.
The prime minister himself had said that issues raised by him would be taken up for consideration by the Union Cabinet when he returned to India.
Rahul Gandhi is not a member of the core group, which is an interface between the Congress party led by Sonia Gandhi and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Besides Singh and Sonia Gandhi, the Congress core group comprises senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel, Defence Minister A K Antony, Finance Minister P Chidambaram, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid.
It still remains a mystery what prompted Rahul to go public with his views on the ordinance and use intemperate language dubbing the measure “complete nonsense” and fit to be “torn and thrown away”
A number of political parties had raised objections over the Supreme Court ruling at an all-party meeting convened by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar on August 3 and demanded that the government take steps to negate the judgment.
The issue came up at another all-party meeting a week later when the government agreed to bring a bill on the issue.
The measure to protect convicted MPs, MLAs and MLCs has been under discussion for quite some time and a section of political leaders voiced their unease at Rahul’s public outburst.
Gandhi is the second most powerful leader of the Congress party. and it is surprising that he did not convey his strong views against the bill or the ordinance to any leader who could have affected the decision making process.
Congress allies did not take Gandhi’s remarks kindly. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Vice-President and Union Minister Praful Patel dubbed the remarks unfortunate and said it had put the Cabinet in an “embarrassing” situation.
He also put the onus on the Congress to clear the misunderstanding on the issue.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah wanted the Congress to convene a meeting of the UPA Coordination Committee clear the misunderstanding which has been “created publicly”.
“This needs to be set right privately in a closed room,” said Abdullah, who is also the President of the National Conference, which is a constituent of the UPA.
Patel, whose NCP is the second largest constituent of the UPA, said the move to protect convicted MPs and MLAs was discussed threadbare at all-party meetings during the monsoon session of Parliament.
The Union Cabinet, at a meeting chaired by the prime minister on August 23 approved the Representation of People (Second Amendment and Validation) Bill. It was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on August 30.
However, the bill was deferred on September 5 after Leader of the Opposition in the Upper House Arun Jaitley and other members, including Naresh Agarwal (Samajwadi Party) sought more time for deliberation on the issue.
It was agreed that the bill would be referred to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice.
It is learnt that the unease among a section of the political class following the conviction of Congress MP Rasheed Masood in a 1992 corruption case and the impending court judgment in the fodder scam case involving Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad prompted the party to push for an Ordinance to protect lawmakers from disqualification.
The Union Cabinet, which met on September 24, approved the promulgation of the ordinance and the file was sent to President Pranab Mukherjee for assent the next day.
Interestingly, senior ministers Antony, Chidambaram, Shinde have been silent after Rahul Gandhi dubbed the Ordinance “complete nonsense”.