The UPA leadership saw red when President Pranab Mukherjee posed tough questions on the ordinance to three Union ministers.
President Pranab Mukherjee talked tough on the ordinance shielding convicted lawmakers when he questioned three Union ministers -- Law Minister Kapil Sibal, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath and Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde -- and sought the minutes of the Cabinet and all-party meetings held to discuss the ordinance, when the trio met him on the night of September 26.
The next day, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi did his famous 'nonsense ordinance' act after which the United Progressive Alliance government withdrew the decree.
At the ministers' meeting with the President, Sibal failed to convince the latter on the strength of the clauses of the ordinance if challenged in the Supreme Court. While Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath was reluctant when Mukherjee asked for the minutes of the meetings, Shinde did not have satisfactory answers about the timing and reasons behind the ordinance, even as the bill was being examined by a parliamentary committee.
Sibal and Kamal Nath realised the import behind why Mukherjee sought the Cabinet minutes on the ordinance only after they stepped out of Rashtrapati Bhavan. This was the real turning point, when it was decided to withdraw the ordinance, according to a senior Union minister.
Mukherjee also sent out a political message that he would not sign ordinances along the dotted line but would protect the Constitution. This is in line with what he has said in many public speeches denouncing the ordinance route. 'Face legislative methods and do not circumvent the democratic rights of the Opposition as well as the government,' he has stressed.
Earlier in the day on September 26, Mukherjee also heard out senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Arun Jaitley’s arguments against the ordinance and studied carefully the memorandum submitted by him, L K Advani and Sushma Swaraj.
Mukherjee, who understood the real political reasons behind the rush to pass the ordinance, put probing questions to the three ministers when they met him, and dropped a hint that he was preparing a 'file' to show that he was acting neutral in the matter.
He was well aware that there have been cases when even the decision of the President has been challenged and the constitutional bench of the Supreme Court had given rulings and even questioned the authority of the high office. He was only preparing himself by maintaining the records of meetings to be provided to the Supreme Court in the event of his decision on the ordinance being challenged.
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, it is learnt, was shocked by three developments: the feedback she received from Sibal, Nath and Shinde after their meeting with the President; Rahul Gandhi rubbishing the ordinance; and a telephone call from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from the United States.
Mukherjee clearly saved the UPA leadership acute embarrassment by avoiding a legal scrutiny of the ordinance cleared by them.
Interestingly, the President has also termed LK Advani's crediting him for the withdrawal of the ordinance as 'speculative'.
Image: President Pranab Mukherjee with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi