Comments on ordinance embarrass PM ahead of meeting with Obama

Written by Pranab Dhal Samanta | Washington | Updated: Sep 28 2013, 06:39am hrs
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stood completely undermined hours before his high-powered meeting with US President Barack Obama here, after news hit him on Friday morning that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had denounced the very ordinance the PM had signed before his departure.

Caught completely off guard by Rahuls statement that the ordinance providing relief to convicted MPs and MLAs from a Supreme Court order was non-sense 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.

The ordinance cleared by the Cabinet pertaining to the Representation of the People Acthas been a matter of much public debate. The Congress vice-president has also written to me on the issue and 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, said the PM 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 of the prevalent political culture, it has still left the PM utterly embarrassed on foreign soil. Furthermore, the PMs close associates like former media advisor Sanjaya Baru have advised that he should now step down.

This amounts to insubordination of the Prime Minister when he is traveling abroad. It is 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 an all-party consultation. The Congress, sources said, was also part of these discussions and the consensus as well. The ordinance, which has been criticised outside Parliament, was again a decision the party knew about.

In fact, on Thursday, finance minister P Chidambaram had referred to this consensus among political parties while attacking the BJP for changing its mind. The Congress vice-presidents remarks come a day after President Pranab Mukherjee is said to have sought some clarifications from the government on the ordinance, setting off the first round of speculation over differences within the party and the government.

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 would look into it.

The PM, it may be noted, 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, attending the East Asia Summit, and then hosting the Emperor of Japan in India.