Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stopped short of admitting he was upset with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi for trashing an ordinance cleared by the Union cabinet, but could not hide his predicament over dealing with the situation.
Gandhi has described as “complete nonsense” the ordinance seen as designed to protect convicted lawmakers from immediate disqualification.
“Once I return, I will find out the reasons why it had to be done that way. And discuss with my colleagues on how to deal with it,” the PM said on Tuesday, replying to a question on whether he would have preferred the controversy not erupting during his visit to the US.
"I am not the master of what people say,” he added.
“I don’t feel that way,” the PM said, responding to a suggestion that Gandhi disowning a cabinet decision steered by him amounted to undermining his authority.
Ruling out his resignation over the issue, he told journalists during his return from the five-day US trip, “I have learnt to take such things in my stride.”
Specifically asked if he was upset with the turn of events, the PM said, “I think I am used to ups and downs. I don’t easily get upset.
“I have seen Rahul Gandhi’s statement. He has also written to me on the subject. When I return I will discuss with him what is agitating his mind. He has also sought a meeting with me.”
The PM added that publicly expressing one’s opinion and reconsidering a decision were essential for a democracy. “We are not an authoritarian structure. Anyone can raise an issue that may need reconsideration.”
The PM and Gandhi are to meet on Wednesday morning and the Union cabinet is slated to review the controversial ordinance in the evening.
The PM said a decision on withdrawing the ordinance would be taken only after consultations with cabinet colleagues who had approved it. “I will discuss with my colleagues and see which way the wind is blowing.”
He emphasised the point that the ordinance was approved only after consultations in cabinet and the Congress party. "It was discussed at the highest levels — in the core group (of the Congress) and in the cabinet, where it was discussed not once but twice.” But he added that it was possible "to change one's mind”.
Cabinet meet to review ordinance
Hand forced by Rahul Gandhi’s public rejection of the ordinance, the cabinet will on Wednesday decide the fate of its ordinance, which was cleared after a Supreme Court ruling on immediate disqualification of legislators convicted for at least two years.
A cabinet note HT got access to says, “After the cabinet decision was made public, the provisions of the ordinance have come in for sharp criticism… there is a perception the government seeks to protect convicted legislators by circumventing the Supreme Court judgment.”
But the note maintains, “Any reasonable reading of the ordinance can’t lead to this conclusion.”
The cabinet meeting at 6pm has a single-point agenda: review of the ordinance, which Gandhi has said should be “torn up and thrown away”.
His outburst was preceded by President Pranab Mukherjee’s reported reluctance to give his assent to the ordinance, following the government’s inability to explain the urgency and constitutional validity for going ahead with it.
Top government sources said the meeting would discuss two options.
First, wait for the President to promulgate the ordinance. Second, withdraw the proposed ordinance, but wait for the standing committee to give its report on a related bill which is pending before Parliament.
(Saubhadra Chatterji and Nagendar Sharma)