A stunned Manmohan Singh awoke to a blow to his domestic political authority at the start of a trip in which he intended to project statesmanship on the global stage.
The Prime Minister piloted through cabinet the controversial ordinance allowing convicted lawmakers to keep their jobs hours before his departure for the US, apparently with the full support of the top Congress leadership. But faced with Rahul Gandhi’s strong criticism of the ordinance on Friday, he issued a muted statement: “The ordinance… has been a matter of much public debate. The Congress vice-president has also written to me on it… The issues raised will be considered on my return to India after due deliberations in the cabinet.”
The PM is learnt to have spoken to Congress president Sonia Gandhi too.
Gandhi’s questioning of a decision the PM did not take unilaterally could not have come at a worse time. Officials travelling with the PM told HT Gandhi’s remarks had seriously undermined the trip and left Singh looking weak ahead of his planned meetings with US President Barack Obama, Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif and Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina.
Only last fortnight, the PM had expressed his willingness to “work under Rahul Gandhi”.
The PM has been guarded in his initiatives with Pak-istan given reservations within a section of the Congress. Many in India wonder how much authority Sharif commands within the Pakistani establishment. But given the timing of Gandhi’s statement, the question may now well be asked of Singh too.