Wednesday, May 31, 2023

What might seal Rahul Gandhi’s fate: The Manmohan govt ordinance he publicly tore into

Rahul Gandhi's criticism of ordinance that would allow convicted legislators three months to appeal had eventually led to its repeal

Rahul GandhiCongress leader Rahul Gandhi at Parliament House. (Express photo by Praveen Khanna/File)

Congress MP Rahul Gandhi might face “immediate disqualification” after a Surat court convicted him of criminal defamation. This is as per a landmark Supreme Court judgment of July 10, 2013, which negated the previous position that allowed convicted MPs, MLAs, MLCs to retain their seats until they had exhausted all judicial remedies, till the Supreme Court of India.

The Manmohan Singh government that was in power at the time brought in an ordinance against the judgment, but a public chastising on Rahul’s part against it – including the famous incident of him tearing into the ordinance – had made the government roll it back.

It was in the Lily Thomas vs Union of India case that the Supreme Court ruled that “any MP, MLA or MLC who is convicted of a crime and given a minimum of 2 years’ jail loses membership of the House with immediate effect”. It struck down Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act, which allowed elected representatives three months to appeal their conviction, as “unconstitutional”.

Two months later, the UPA government passed an ordinance to negate the order. It was seen as a move to protect RJD supremo and Congress ally Lalu Prasad from disqualification if proved guilty in the fodder scam case. Veteran Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP Rashid Masood, on the other hand, was already convicted in a corruption case, and faced immediate disqualification.

The Opposition of the time, including the BJP and the Left, severely criticised the Manmohan Singh government and the Congress over the ordinance, accusing it of protecting convicted lawmakers.

Days after the ordinance was passed, on September 27, Rahul made a surprise and dramatic entry at a press event of the party in Delhi. There, in a major embarrassment for PM Manmohan Singh and his Cabinet colleagues, Rahul publicly castigated the UPA government over the ordinance, calling it a “complete nonsense”, and said it should be “torn and thrown out”.

Going on to speak at the press conference, Rahul said, “I am telling you what is happening internally – we need to do this [bring in an ordinance] because of political considerations. Everybody does this. The Congress party does this, the BJP does this, the Janata Dal does this, the Samajwadi Party does this and everybody does this. And there is a time to stop this nonsense.”


He added: “I really feel it is about time that political parties, mine and all others, stop making these kinds of compromises because if we want to actually fight corruption in this country,whether it is us, the Congress party, or the BJP, we cannot continue making these small compromises… I am interested in what the Congress party is doing, I am interested in what our government is doing and I feel, personally feel,what our government has done as far as this ordinance is concerned is wrong.”

Congress sources had told The Indian Express at the time that Rahul was attempting to distance himself from the UPA government’s “perceived omissions and commissions”. With less than a year to go for the 2014 elections and with the government battling a string of corruption allegations, such as the alleged 2G scam and AgustaWestland scam, Rahul, they said, hoped his taking the moral high ground would help the party go to the “electorate with a clean image”.

The result, however, was the opposite. The incident, which happened at a time when Manmohan Singh was on an official visit to the US, was seen as a blow to the PM’s authority and a sign that the government and party were pulling in different directions.


Rahul is also reported to have sent a letter to the PM shortly after the incident, saying his comments “had been made on the spur of the moment” but that he “strongly believed in what he had said”.

A day before Rahul’s outburst, BJP leaders L K Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley had met then President Pranab Mukherjee and submitted a memorandum asking for the ordinance to be withdrawn. The President had then summoned the law minister, the home minister and parliamentary affairs minister and asked them what the government planned to do if the Supreme Court struck the ordinance down. The ministers reportedly came back from the meeting and were considering whether the Cabinet should reconsider the ordinance and withdraw it.

Rahul is believed to have sent a letter to the PM in this regard, but he reportedly went ahead with his dramatic press conference without waiting for a reply from Manmohan Singh.

Later, in a statement released just before his meeting with US President Barack Obama, Manmohan Singh said, “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.”

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On October 2, after he had returned, Manmohan Singh met Rahul before a meeting of the Congress Core Group, where it was decided that it would be better for the government to withdraw the ordinance.

The next day, the government withdrew the ordinance.

First published on: 23-03-2023 at 16:33 IST
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