Sonia Gandhi feels the prime minister should not be bothered about the consequences of an ordinance, as the food security legislation is important for the Congress party's electoral future. Renu Mittal reports.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a worried man.
The food security ordinance listed on the Cabinet's agenda was deferred on Thursday after Dr Singh proposed that the government once again try to bring the Opposition parties on board for the passage of the bill.
The prime minister hopes the bill can be passed in either a special session or in the monsoon session of Parliament, with the support of the Opposition parties.
Highly placed sources in the Congress say party President Sonia Gandhi is upset with the deferment of the ordinance. She either wants the ordinance enacted or the bill passed.
It is learnt she told the prime minister that he should not be bothered about the consequences of the ordinance, as the food security legislation is important for the Congress party.
Sonia Gandhi has been pushing for the bill and sees it as a game changer. She believes it will get the party votes to win the next general election.
The prime minister is concerned that if the ordinance is enacted, the government will have to push for the bill to be passed in the monsoon session of Parliament.
Allies like the Samajwadi Party have threatened to withdraw support to the United Progressive Alliance government if the bill is introduced.
Sources in the Congress party say the prime minister does not want the UPA government to fall at any cost. Dr Singh does not want to take any action that could cut short the life of his government.
Sonia Gandhi is credited with the view that the government is nearing its end of its tenure. For her, the food security bill is important if the Congress has to make a strong pitch at winning a third term in power.
Dr Singh, who is against the ordinance, is reported to have asked Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath to take one more shot at bringing Opposition parties around.
Nationalist Congress Party leader and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar is said to be in concurrence with the prime minister on this issue.
Pawar made it clear at Thursday's Cabinet meeting that the government try to achieve a consensus to pass the bill.
In view of the falling value of the rupee and the economy's shaky recovery, this makes sense for the prime minister.
A senior Cabinet minister said the government will approach the Opposition parties to know if they want any amendments to the bill.
Till two days ago, the language of both the leaders in the party and the government was different. They said there was no question of a special session of Parliament and the government wanted an ordinance to take full credit for the food security measure. They claimed the Opposition was not serious about cooperating on the issue.
Sources said a reshuffle of the council of ministers is also on the cards. Ministers, who are scheduled to travel, have been asked to cancel their plans.
The food security bill entails an expenditure of Rs 1.25 lakh crore. It would require 62 million tones of food grain annually to implement the government's promise of providing highly subsidised food grain to almost 70 per cent of the population.
The entire subsidy element is against the ethos of the reformist prime minister, which is supplemented by his worry that the government may fall earlier than its due date if any hasty steps are taken.
A senior Congress leader said it is the party which has to fight the next election and not the prime minister or his government. So the party needs to take steps that will strengthen its position in the electoral battlefield.
Sources say a special session of Parliament looks unlikely. Unless the prime minister can be forced to agree to an ordinance, Sonia Gandhi's favourite flagship programme, which she sees as an electoral game changer, will continue to be in limbo.