Updated: March 14, 2014 12:52:43 pm
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stood completely undermined hours before his high-powered meeting with US President Barack Obama Friday after news broke that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had trashed the ordinance to protect convicted MPs and MLAs the PM had approved of before his departure.
Caught completely off guard by Rahuls statement that the ordinance was nonsense and should be torn up and thrown out,an embarrassed PMO had little to say except indicate that a decision would only be taken on Singhs return to India. They,however,added that the Congress vice- president had also written to the PM on the issue.
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The ordinance cleared by the cabinet pertaining to the Representation of the People Act has been a matter of much public debate. The Congress vice-president has also written to me on the issue and also made a statement. The government is seized of all these developments. The issues raised will be considered on my return to India after due deliberations in the cabinet, the PM said in a statement just before his meeting with Obama.
While Congress insiders sought to make the point that Rahuls remarks should be seen in the context of his views about the prevalent political culture,the fact is it has left the PM utterly embarrassed on foreign soil. To the extent that the PMs close associates such as former media advisor Sanjaya Baru suggested that he should now step down.
This amounts to insubordination of the Prime Minister when he is travelling abroad. Its not done. He should now step down, Baru told The Indian Express from Delhi.
What has taken authorities by surprise is that the Bill on this subject,which now stands referred to the standing committee,was a product of all-party consultation. The Congress,sources said,was also part of these discussions and also the consensus. The ordinance,which has been criticised outside Parliament,was again a decision the party knew and it had been cleared by its core group.
In fact,Finance Minister P Chidambaram had Thursday referred to this consensus among political parties while attacking the BJP for changing its mind.
In Washington,however,the Prime Ministers Office sought to put up a brave front saying they remain focused on the all important bilateral meeting in the White House even though Rahuls remarks have cast a long shadow on Singhs plans. External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid also sought to downplay the embarrassment,saying Rahul had made his observations and the government will look into it.
The PM has attached a lot of importance to this week-long visit to the US. It was meant to be the beginning of a three-month-long foreign policy effort to reach out to every important international leader before the 2014 elections. This includes bilateral visits to the US,Russia and China,attend the East Asia Summit and then host the Emperor of Japan in India.
Also scheduled during the US visit is the PMs first bilateral meeting with new Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif,with whom Singh is expected to make a bold bid to reopen a stalled political conversation despite stiff opposition from the BJP.
Now,sources said,the PMs credibility has taken a hit as all these countries are bound to doubt his ability to deliver on his word,particularly Pakistan. And unlike the usual pre-planned foreign visits,the one to the US was specifically aimed at sending a signal that the Manmohan Singh government can be politically decisive even if its an election year.
Government sources have been trying hard to explain through this journey that India wants to project itself as a mature democracy,where elections do not mean diluting foreign policy commitments.
Given that the US had passed a legislation on civil nuclear cooperation in an election year,Singhs efforts have been centred on giving similar assurances in terms of proceeding with economic reforms and providing a fresh impetus to nuclear and defence cooperation. But it all took a blow Friday morning as the PM was snubbed by Rahul.
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