A day before the meeting of the Union Cabinet called to consider withdrawing the controversial ordinance on convicted MPs and MLAs,the ruling UPA was a divided house on Tuesday,with many partners taking a dig at Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi for trying to dictate to the government.
Mr Rahul Gandhi is free to say whatever he wishes to say about the Congress party,but the government led by Manmohan Singh is not a Congress government. It is the UPA government and I am sure Rahul Gandhi knows we are his allies and not his followers, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) spokesperson and MP D P Tripathi said.
The NCP and the National Conference have already demanded that the UPA coordination committee meeting be convened to discuss this issue.
Tomorrow,we have to see whether Rahul Gandhi is at the top or the Prime Minister of India is at the top, said Samajwadi Party general secretary and MP Naresh Agarwal,when asked whether his party was in favour of withdrawing the proposed ordinance.
The rumblings in the ruling dispensation came as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh returned from his eventful trip to the United States and is due to preside over the Cabinet meeting Wednesday evening to discuss the fate of the ordinance.
Ahead of the Cabinet meeting,Singh is also scheduled to call on President Pranab Mukherjee who will leave on a six-day visit to Belgium and Turkey Wednesday afternoon.
Rahul had last week trashed the ordinance and called it complete nonsense,undermining the PMs position and triggering a political crisis.
The Cabinet agenda note circulated Tuesday said the government would seek directions of the Cabinet on two options regarding the Representation of the People (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance 2013.
The first option is to await the promulgation of the said ordinance by the President of India. The second is to withdraw the proposed ordinance and await the recommendations of the parliamentary standing committee on the Representation of the People (Second Amendment and Validation) Bill,2013,pending in the Rajya Sabha.
The note said the second option would restore status quo ante with regard to the impact of the Supreme Courts July 10 ruling and in deference to the sentiments of the public at large and the recommendations of the parliamentary standing committee,the said Bill can be considered by the house.
Although the Cabinets decision,given the sheer weight of Rahul Gandhis stature in the party and his strong denunciation of the ordinance,appeared to be a fait accompli,sources said they could not completely rule out a surprise.
Given the way the political class,including UPA partners and the opposition,have expressed outrage at the undermining of the Prime Minister,the Congress leadership has been on the defensive,with party president Sonia Gandhi asserting Monday that the party is behind the PM.
Also,that the Prime Minister,in his comments to the media accompanying him on his US trip,chose to highlight the fact that the Congress core group and the Cabinet had backed the ordinance,has not gone unnoticed.
Many in the government would also be keenly watching the stance of NCP chief and Union Minister Sharad Pawar,who is not known to mince words when it comes to the prestige and credibility of institutions.
Much would also depend on how Rahul Gandhi,who will call on the PM Wednesday morning,seeks to salvage the situation – whether by standing his ground and undermining the PMs authority or letting go of his personal opinion about the ordinance to show his and the Congress partys respect for the post of the PM.
While the Samajwadi Party did not spell out its stand on the issue of withdrawing the proposed ordinance,the UPA ally indicated its support for any move to negate the Supreme Court ruling on the disqualification of convicted MPs and MLAs.
The SP is against criminalisation of politics. But we believe that justice is completed in four steps,from the lower court to the Supreme Court. We are not for disqualification of MPs on the basis of lower court conviction when other levels are yet to consider the matter. We have no objection if MPs are disqualified after the conviction is upheld by the Supreme Court, Naresh Agarwal told The Indian Express.
The NCP had also made its displeasure known last Saturday with Union Minister Praful Patel saying that Rahul Gandhis outburst was embarrassing and that the situation could have been handled in a better way.
While BSP leaders refused to comment,party sources pointed at Mayawatis suggestion that the ordinance should not have been hurried through without a political consensus.