Ordinance on convicted lawmakers: When PM must draw the line

I remember how in 1993, the then Finance Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, hugely mortified for his ministry facing the blame for not anticipating and preventing the securities scam, had rushed to the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao with a resignation letter in his pocket.

At that time, the whole of the media had dubbed him a cry baby with a serious hangover of his babudom days; and preached how he needed to become rhino skinned like a seasoned politico.

Those were early days and Manmohan Singh was taking baby steps into the big, bad and murky world of politics.

But we all know how brilliant a student our PM has been, having won scholarships at Oxford and Cambridge, and how well he learns his lessons. Perhaps, a bit too well.

For come rain, thunder or storm, PM Manmohan Singh remains unmoved. He said on board the plane carrying him back from UNGA that it takes a great deal to upset him now.

But, upset, he was nevertheless. He told the media he would enquire of Rahul Gandhi why he debunked the ordinance on lawmakers the way he did and why he had proclaimed it to be a piece of nonsense meant to be relegated to the dustbin.

For once, after so much has been said about Singh being weak, powerless and a remote control-run-PM, he indeed seemed pained. (Upset at last).

True to his word, an explanation must have been sought, for the prince of the Congress called on his residence indeed, albeit only briefly. While one had hoped it would have been for an apology for so publicly humiliating the Prime Minister and trivializing the Cabinet, what we got to learn minutes later was that the ordinance was going to be dumped.

Rahul’s afterthought about his outburst when his `language was wrong but sentiment was right’ is hardly a solace. The PM has undoubtedly been forced to eat crow.

If Rahul Gandhi wishes to ride the public sentiment and appear to be on the citizen’s side, sharing our searing contempt of the neta and attempts at putting him above the Constitution, at least I am not taken in by this performance dramatique. For why was Rahul sleeping when the Congress Core committee and the Cabinet had deliberated, accepted and, in fact, pushed for the Ordinance on convicted parliamentarians?

And while why Rahul had turned the Nelson’s eye when the debate was raging in the country is an important question, what is ever more shocking is how the forced U-turn places the PM.

In the face of cheap attacks on his persona, including lowly terms used by LK Advani and Narendra Modi, to his integrity being questioned by the country at large, Sonia and Rahul have been steady at his side. Remember Rahul’s spirited defence of him in pushing the nuclear deal!

Today after this incident, the PM stands isolated. Completely barren of support and logical defences that his academic mind have offered, even if rarely.

The PM has withstood attacks for his role in ignoring Shunglu committee’s recommendations on CWG, the PMO’s hand in 2G and Coal scam and seen his handpicked Pawan Bansal being disgraced.

But with the Cabinet reversing the ordinance in a meeting that was chaired by the PM, those at the pinnacle of Congress are unabashedly shaming him.

The rationale given after the meeting was that the decision on the ordinance was reconsidered after the widest possible feedback was taken into consideration and which had so aptly been articulated by Mr Rahul Gandhi. As if the whole world was trumpeting some other message before the not-so-young scion opened his mouth!

Allies Sharad Pawar and Farooq Abdullah have openly expressed displeasure at the way the sanctity of the Cabinet has been compromised and the Prime Minister’s office undermined.

It is high time Manmohan Singh also saw the writing on the wall. He may have held his nerve to do his job, but having to acquiesce at the whim of an insolent youth hardly becomes of a man named once as one of the most respected and influential global statesmen.

Mr Prime Minister, a resignation in the pocket is sometimes the right thing to do.