Govt toes Rahul line, withdraws ordinance
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi prevailed over the party, as the Union Cabinet on Wednesday decided to withdraw an ordinance and a bill that were aimed at shielding convicted lawmakers.
The Gandhi scion had publicly denounced the bill five days ago. “The ordinance was complete nonsense and fit to be torn up and thrown away,” he said on Friday.
The decision came on a day of heady developments, which saw Gandhi explaining his position on the ordinance to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, followed by a meeting of the Congress core group, chaired by party president Sonia Gandhi.
However, not everyone was happy with the Congress falling in line with Gandhi’s views. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar made his displeasure known at a Cabinet meeting chaired by the prime minister.
“The ordinance with respect to certain sections of the Representation of People’s Act as well as the bill to amend the act will be withdrawn,” Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari said after a 20-minute Cabinet meeting.
There were murmurs of dissent within a section of the ruling alliance, which wondered whether the government would need to seek Gandhi’s approval before taking any crucial decision. Another section felt that if he was so keen to govern, Gandhi should accept responsibility and become part of the government.
Gandhi’s public denouncement of the ordinance had put the United Progressive Alliance in a difficult situation. Aware of the unease among allies, the prime minister held talks with Pawar (NCP), Farooq Abdullah (National Conference) and Ajit Singh (Rashtriya Lok Dal) before the Cabinet meet.
Though Pawar supported the decision to withdraw the ordinance, he is understood to have told the Cabinet meeting that Gandhi’s remarks challenged the authority and credibility of the government. Such incidents should be avoided in future, he said. Pawar is learnt to have spoken about the disquiet among the allies over the decision. He advised the Congress to hold consultations with “whomsoever they wish” before taking a crucial decision to avoid such awkward situations.
“It was a Cabinet decision then, it is a Cabinet decision now. I am not upset, but I am not happy,” Abdullah said after the meeting. He said Gandhi should have waited for the prime minister to return from his US tour before going public with his views. “I think someone must have advised him on this. I hope there will be better advisers,” he said. The prime minister is learnt to have conveyed the core group’s decision to the President.
The Supreme Court on July 10 said convicted lawmakers who were awarded more than two years’ imprisonment would stand disqualified.