New Delhi: Mahatma Gandhi’s 144th birth anniversary will see an interesting tussle between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi over the ordinance that nullifies instant disqualification of MPs and MLAs convicted by a trial court.
Rahul’s peremptory dismissal of the ordinance, which has been cleared by the Congress core committee headed by his mother and party president Sonia Gandhi and then by the Union cabinet, as “complete nonsense” has forced the government to beat a hasty, but dignified, retreat.
Singh will meet Rahul Gandhi at 9.45am — a meeting that Rahul has sought with Singh as the prime minister revealed at the media interaction aboard Air India 1. This will be followed by the core committee meeting at 10.30 am. The core committee comprises Sonia Gandhi, her political secretary Ahmed Patel from the party side, and the government represented by Singh, defence minister AK Antony, finance minister P Chidambaram, home minister Sushilkumar Shinde, and possibly law minister Kapil Sibal.
The PM is due to meet president Pranab Mukherjee in the forenoon, before Mukherjee leaves on a state visit to Greece.
It is obvious that Singh is not too happy with Rahul Gandhi’s outburst though there is little he can do about it as he has himself admitted. It is Sonia Gandhi who will have to be the peacemaker between Singh, with his back to the wall, and an aggressive Gandhi, who is unlikely to be persuaded to change his opinion.
Sonia Gandhi will have to save the prime minister’s dignity and let her impetuous son have his way.
Singh clearly indicated he is upset with Rahul Gandhi on the timing of his outburst that has plunged UPA-II into a catch-22 situation. Talking to reporters, Singh said he will discuss the matter with Rahul Gandhi.
While top Congress sources say the ordinance is now history, the PM’s statement that “he will see which way the wind blows” has raised hackles within the party. Party leaders believe it was unlikely the PM could go against the party’s wishes. But till late in the night they were not sure of Sonia Gandhi’s mind, who is now attempting to play peacemaker between her son, the party’s old guard and the government led by Singh. She will speak her mind at the core group meeting.
“There is no question of going back on the ordinance,” said a top Congress leader. But when probed, he too said they (the dissenters) will have to wait till Wednesday, before they get to know the mind of Congress president. He said there may be some technical issues involved while withdrawing the ordinance, which will be taken care of.
Meanwhile, UPA allies Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) of Sharad Pawar, the National Conference of Farooq Abdullah and also outside supporter Samajwadi Party on Tuesday made it clear that there was no need to compromise on Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s whims to dump the ordinance, cleared by the cabinet earlier.
Without referring to Rahul’s outburst, the cabinet note says reconsideration of the ordinance is based primarily on two points.
One, “after the cabinet decision was made public, the provisions of the proposed ordinance have come in for sharp criticism”. Two, “perception that the government seeks to protect convicted legislators by circumventing the Supreme Court judgment”.
As regards the perception, the cabinet note goes on to assert that “any reasonable reading of the ordinance cannot lead to this conclusion”. Some Congress leaders fumed at this rider as challenging Rahul’s perception.
Angry at Rahul Gandhi undermining the government, allies have sought an urgent meeting of the UPA coordination committee to discuss the ordinance.
Top NCP sources said the ordinance was brought after due deliberations to tackle the ticklish situation created by the Supreme Court judgment. Both NCP general secretary DP Tripathi and J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah made it clear that important decisions cannot be taken without consulting alliance partners.
“We are also responsible to the people and public at large,” Tripathi said.
There were divided opinions within the government on how to withdraw a recommendation while it is under consideration of the president. A view was emerging in the government, to wait for the president’s decision to either promulgate or reject the ordinance.
Parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath, who is privy to the president’s reservation to sign the ordinance, said the cabinet has been convened since the prime minister cannot rescind a cabinet decision on his own. It has to be decided collectively by the cabinet.
Conceding that there were two views on the issue in the party, Kamal Nath said some MPs had earlier approached him saying the issue should be reconsidered. But the ordinance was brought as there was no time and the bill that the government wanted passed in the monsoon session had already gone to the standing committee.