An unexpected and blunt attack by Rahul Gandhi on Friday on the ordinance to protect convicted lawmakers caused political tremors with his description of it as "complete nonsense" being seen as sharp criticism of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Using tough language, Rahul made a rare and dramatic appearance before journalists to denounce the ordinance as "complete nonsense" and a document that "should be torn up and thrown away".
Rahul's strong criticism during an unscheduled media interaction at Delhi's Press Club took place while the prime minister was sleeping in his suite in a Washington hotel, hours before his meeting with President Barack Obama.
In a brief reaction later, the PM said in Washington that the ordinance cleared by the Cabinet has been a matter of much public debate. Rahul had written to him 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," he said in a statement.
With Rahul taking a public stand against it and writing to the prime minister, there is little doubt that the fate of the ordinance, now before President Pranab Mukherjee, is sealed.
The Congress vice president said, "What our government has done as far as this ordinance is concerned is wrong", although at one point he mentioned that it was his personal opinion.
The controversial ordinance, approved recently by the Union Cabinet presided over by Dr Singh, seeks to prevent immediate disqualification of convicted MPs and MLAs and negate a Supreme Court judgment on this. The President too appears to have reservations about it.
There was little doubt that Rahul's statement came as a surprise to Dr Singh. The PM's aides were woken up by journalists for a reaction, which came some hours later.
The Congress immediately fell in line with Rahul's view on the ordinance with several ministers endorsing it although sources said that the decision to promulgate an ordinance was taken days ago at the highest levels in the party.
With Rahul's remarks seen as a snub to the prime minister there were some immediate suggestions that he should resign. The Bharatiya Janata Party said Dr Singh should resign if he had any self-respect.
Even the PM's former media adviser Sanjaya Baru saw "insubordination" in Rahul's attack and suggested that Dr Singh should quit.
The opposition rubbished Rahul's shrill attack with the BJP calling it a "desperate and belated" damage control exercise.
BJP leader Arun Jaitley said it is a "belated realisation of nonsense" and that those responsible in the government for the ordinance should resign.
Trinamool Congress' Saugata Roy said Rahul's attack is an "orchestrated" move and demonstrated confusion within the Congress while Communist Party of India's Gurudas Das Gupta said it was "most belated."
CPI-Marxist’s Brinda Karat wondered why Rahul was reacting after so many days when the ordinance is now before President Pranab Mukherjee.
"If Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has any self-respect left then I think he should call it a day because the super cop who can correct the system has arrived on the scene," said BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi.
.Noting that Rahul's attack is a "desperate damage control" exercise, Jaitley said it's only when the "revulsion is built, the Congress party is trying to cut its losses."
"Belated realisation of what the Congress party now calls nonsense. The heads, which brought out this nonsense twice in the last one month, must roll. It is a charade to show the government can make a mistake, but the Congress's first family doesn't," he added.
Jaitley's colleague Murli Manohar Joshi said an "escape route" is being plotted by the Congress after committing a "blunder" while another BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi asked, "Is this a government or a theatrical production?”
"Now that he (Rahul) speaks about it most belatedly, this is not bad, this is good... This statement is coming to take credit," said Gurudas Das Gupta.