The UPA government was Friday forced to do a rethink on its controversial plan to promulgate a host of ordinances, including those that aim to combat corruption and are being pushed by Rahul Gandhi with an eye on the general elections, as it was unsure of President Pranab Mukherjee’s mind.
Hours after the Cabinet deferred taking up the ordinances, the Congress core group met for over two hours to discuss the way forward. Law Minister Kapil Sibal, along with ministers Mallikarjun Kharge, Jairam Ramesh and V Narayanasamy, was called to the meeting chaired by Congress president Sonia Gandhi at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s residence. Defence Minister A K Antony, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, Finance Minister
P Chidambaram and Sonia’s political secretary Ahmed Patel were also present. Sources said at least two ministers sounded a note of caution saying the move could be legally untenable. The government is also apprehensive about the President questioning the timing and rationale as the law ministry has already asked the departments concerned to justify the ordinances. The government was also aware of the President consulting legal experts, sources said.
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The Congress core group was inconclusive and sources said the government may try to gauge the President’s mind before taking a final call in the next two days. The Prime Minister, sources said, could meet the President to discuss the issue. There is an urgency over the issue in the government as the Election Commission is set to announce the election schedule next week, bringing the model code of conduct into force.
The Cabinet did not take up the ordinances for consideration with Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth saying that items relating to the ordinances stand “postponed”. Sources said if the government decides to push through the ordinances, a special Cabinet meeting could be convened on Sunday. However, Shinde said no meeting is scheduled when asked if there would be a Cabinet meeting on Saturday to decide on the ordinances.
In another major decision, the Cabinet revised the limit of election expenditure incurred by candidates from Rs 40 lakh to Rs 70 lakh. The upper limit for nine smaller states – Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Sikkim, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Lakshadweep and Puducherry – has been kept at Rs 54 lakh.
For Assembly constituencies, the maximum limit has been increased from Rs 16 lakh to Rs 28 lakh in all states except Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura and Puducherry, where it will be Rs 20 lakh.
Besides, the Cabinet rolled out a slew of populist measures – ranging from doing away with the one-LPG-cylinder-per-month condition to raising the Dearness Allowance to 100 per cent.