Also goes back on bill shielding convicted lawmakers; partygovt relations take a hard knock
NEW DELHI (TIP):In a complete U-turn, the UPA government decided to withdraw the proposed ordinance as well as the bill seeking to protect the right of a convicted MP or MLA to save his seat and seek re-election. The bill is pending before a standing committee of Parliament. The ordinance was drafted to resolve the imbalance arising from a Supreme Court order decreeing Article 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act (which prevents disqualification in case of conviction) illegal. After the outburst of Congress Vice- President Rahul Gandhi who termed the proposed ordinance ‘nonsense’ while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was abroad, Gandhi met the PM on Wednesday morning for 25 minutes. That was followed by a meeting of the Congress core committee, a meeting between the President and the PM, and later in the day, a meeting of the Cabinet which “unanimously” resolved to withdraw both legislative proposals. Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar spoke briefly during the Cabinet meeting where he said “it seems we failed to study the ordinance enough”.
Law Minister Kapil Sibal rebutted this and said he had studied judgments and laws in great detail. Non-conventional Energy Sources Minister Farooq Abdullah said what had happened was unfortunate because it sent the message that the government was not pulling as one. The PM was silent. While the withdrawal of the proposed ordinance was on expected lines since the time Rahul Gandhi trashed it, the withdrawal of the bill came as a surprise. Briefing reporters after the Cabinet meeting, I&B Minister Manish Tewari said, “A special motion at an appropriate time would need to be moved to withdraw the bill, which is now the property of Parliament.” While this seemed to signal the end of a frantic week of high drama, the balance of power between the Congress party and the government stands altered. Interestingly, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi called on Defence Minister A K Antony, who is recuperating from an operation at a military hospital here. The meeting lasted nearly an hour. Rahul Gandhi has publicly acknowledged Antony as “my leader” and, before his Press Club of India bombshell, had asked colleagues what Antony’s position on the ordinance had been at the Cabinet meeting that considered it. During his return flight from the US, the PM did not deny that he disapproved of Rahul Gandhi’s public dismissal of a move that had been mulled by the government and party over days. When asked a pointed question about Rahul Gandhi’s description of the ordinance as ‘nonsense’ at a time when the PM was abroad, Singh wryly remarked, “Well, I am not the master of what people say.
It has happened and when I go back I will try to find out the reasons why it had to be done that way and how do we handle it.” That the relationship appeared to have been damaged was clear from the body language of the PM and Congress President Sonia Gandhi at their first interaction upon his return. At Rajghat to pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi, both appeared stiff and ill at ease and, in a departure from protocol, Sonia Gandhi left the premises while the PM was still sitting there. Though that could be temporary awkwardness, interested parties seized upon it. Alliance partners like the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) said they would stand by what the Prime Minister and the Cabinet decided, not act on the basis of an interjection by some individual from the Congress party. “We are allies of the UPA, not some individuals in the Congress,” said Tariq Anwar, minister of state for agriculture. “If this was the position of the Congress party, there should have been some discussion in the Cabinet.” The PM had made it clear he would not heed to the advice of former advisors and quit. But in a malaise that appeared to go deeper, the chief minister of a Congressruled state said the entire incident suggested the emergence of a ginger group within the party getting impatient at the ‘compromises’ the government was making. “Now you know why Rahul Gandhi never became a minister. If he had, this kind of thing… differences with the government would have been a routine, daily affair,” he said. There were suggestions that the group would lobby publicly that the Right to Information law apply to political parties. Some UPA alliance partners no longer appear sure that they would want to do business with a party whose leader — likely to be Rahul Gandhi come 2014 — would be so unilateral in his outlook. “Doctor Sahib (the PM) is a consensus man. By this incident, Rahul Gandhi has proved he is not. We will have to watch this tendency carefully. It will be a factor in our judgment about future dealings,” a leader of an ally party said.