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Home / Politics / Policy /  Rahul Gandhi gets his way on ordinance as government blinks

New Delhi: Ignoring the dissenting voices of some key allies, the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) decided on Wednesday to spike the controversial ordinance that seeks to protect convicted parliamentarians and state legislators from immediate disqualification.

The Union cabinet, which met in the evening a day after the return of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from a US visit, decided unanimously to withdraw the ordinance that it had approved on 24 September, a step that Congress party vice-president Rahul Gandhi publicly rubbished three days later as “complete nonsense."

A Bill pending in Parliament seeking to amend some sections of the Representation of the People Act will also be withdrawn, information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari said. The government will withdraw the proposed amendment, which has been sent to a standing committee of Parliament, in the winter session.

“We are open, willing and transparent," Tewari said when asked about the reversal of the cabinet’s decision. “This reflects the sensitivity we attach to public opinion."

The reversal proved that the 43-year-old Gandhi has effectively taken control of the 128-year-old party, which found itself in an unusual public tussle with a government it heads after he made public his opinion that the ordinance should be “torn up and thrown away".

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Singh met Gandhi, who explained his reservations over the government’s move. Gandhi pointed out to Singh that the government did not take into account the views of party workers and public sentiment on protecting convicted lawmakers when it cleared the ordinance, a person familiar with the development said on condition of anonymity.

Top leaders of the Congress also met and endorsed Gandhi’s views, agreeing that at a time when the party and the government are facing a drop in popularity because of corruption scandals and other controversies, such an ordinance had the potential to do more damage to its image, people aware of the developments said.

The Prime Minister had a meeting with President Pranab Mukherjee followed by the cabinet meeting, at which Nationalist Congress Party chief and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar voiced concern about the policy flip-flop over the ordinance, the people said on condition of anonymity. But the decision to withdraw it was unanimous.

The issue had briefly divided the Congress, with the younger lot of politicians in the party publicly backing Gandhi, while some senior ministers and allies of the party supported the ordinance. The opposition criticized the party vice-president for raising his objections publicly when the Prime Minister was away on a visit to the US, saying it had undermined the nation’s highest executive office.

Although the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded Singh’s resignation over the issue, the Prime Minister, on his way back to New Delhi, ruled out stepping down. “There is no question of resigning," he said.

Political observers said Gandhi had asserted his preeminent position in the ruling party by having his way and saved the party the embarrassment it would have suffered had President Mukherjee returned the ordinance. The BJP had requested the President not to sign the ordinance and Mukherjee questioned the urgency in passing the ordinance.

“Now, it’s time for him (Gandhi) to demonstrate his transition from a reluctant leader to a determined leader and to take the party to newer heights, using the opportunity he has gained," said N. Bhaskara Rao, a political analyst based in New Delhi who closely follows developments in the Congress party.

The BJP on Wednesday tried to play down Gandhi’s role in overturning the government’s decision. “There is no morality or sensitivity attached to this decision," BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

The Supreme Court’s July verdict has put two Parliamentarians at the risk of losing their seats—Rasheed Masood, a Congress member of the Rajya Sabha, and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad.

Masood was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment by a Delhi court for misusing his office as health minister in the 1990s to grant admission in medical colleges to students who were not eligible. A special Central Bureau of Investigation court in Ranchi found Lalu Prasad, a former Bihar chief minister, guilty in a case dating back to the 1990s, involving embezzlement of around 37 crore from the state government treasury meant for purchase of cattle fodder.

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