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Rahul gets Congress out of the woods, leaves PM behind

September 27, 2013 21:12 IST

Rahul gets Congress out of the woods, leaves PM behind

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Anita Katyal

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s strong public opposition to the controversial ordinance on convicted legislators has undoubtedly undermined Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s position but has also provided a much-needed face saver to the party which is already facing stinging criticism for various corruption scandals.

Ever since the Union Cabinet cleared the ordinance overturning a Supreme Court order disqualifying convicted legislators and barring them from contesting elections, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government has been at the receiving end from the opposition, activists and from a section of its own party.

The Bharatiya Janata Party was quick to lead a delegation to President Pranab Mukherjee urging him not to sign the ordinance while several Congress leaders, including All India Congress Committee general secretary Digvijaya Singh and junior minister Milind Deora, came out publicly against the government’s move. 

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who faces a tough assembly election later this year,  is said to have conveyed her reservations about this ordinance to the Prime Minister as she feared it would further alienate the middle classes from the Congress.

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Rahul gets Congress out of the woods, leaves PM behind

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Anita Katyal

President Pranab Mukherjee was also unhappy with the government’s decision and had sought clarifications from Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and Law Minister Kapil Sibal on Thursday. Mukherjee was clearly not comfortable about giving his assent to the ordinance.

Realising that adverse public opinion was building up against the government and the party, the Congress leadership was forced to do a rethink on this issue. It had to cut its losses and find a way of extricating itself from this mess.

If the UPA government had withdrawn the controversial ordinance unilaterally, it would have dealt a big blow to the ruling alliance but also provided fresh ammunition to the opposition to target the Congress.

Moreover, it would have given an opportunity to the BJP to claim the high moral ground and declare that the government had buckled under its pressure.

Consequently, the Congress had to find a face-saver. 

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Rahul gets Congress out of the woods, leaves PM behind

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Anita Katyal

Rahul’s stage-managed intrusion at Congress media chief Ajay Maken’s media interaction at the Press Club on Friday was, therefore, used to do some quick damage control.

Rahul rang up Maken shortly after he took the floor at the media briefing and asked him about his whereabouts. When Maken told him that he was facing a hostile press over the ordinance, Rahul told him that he would like to drop in. Arriving shortly, an angry Congress vice-president went on to denounce the government’s decision to clear the ordinance.

Rejecting the move, Rahul said, "The ordinance is complete nonsense, should be torn and thrown away."  

He went on to add, "All parties do this because of political considerations and we must stop making political compromises."

His remarks have obviously embarrassed the government as the ordinance was cleared by the Union Cabinet after consulting the party.

In fact, Congress sources said party president Sonia Gandhi was on board and that the ordinance was designed to bail out Rashtriya  Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav who is likely to get an adverse court verdict in the pending fodder scam case. It is known that Sonia has a soft corner for Lalu who has always defended her.

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Rahul gets Congress out of the woods, leaves PM behind

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Anita Katyal

On the other hand, Rahul’s impromptu opposition to the ordinance has provided a way out for the government. At the same time, the opposition can no longer take credit for forcing the government to backtrack on this issue.

It has also been denied an opportunity to build a campaign against the UPA for protecting corrupt politicians. Rahul has stolen their thunder and, in the process, insulated himself from the corruption charges against the government and the party.

Having been deprived of a victory, the BJP shifted focus to the disconnect between the Congress and the UPA government and demanded that Prime Minister should quit if he had any self-respect, a view endorsed by his former media advisor Sanjaya Baru.

While the Congress was relieved at the turn of events, it had a tough time explaining Rahul’s unnecessary aggressive tone and the intemperate manner in which he criticised the government. While party leaders privately admitted that Rahul could have adopted a more dignified stance, nobody disagreed with the views expressed by him.

Asked if Rahul’s remarks had undermined the PM, a senior Congress leader maintained, “I would only say that Rahul is beginning to assert himself.”

The Congress vice-president’s remarks on the ordinance were promptly welcomed by party leaders.

“Rahul’s view is the party’s view. The Congress’s view is supreme,” maintained Ajay Maken while Minister of state for human resource development Shashi Tharoor remarked that Rahul was absolutely right about the ordinance and that many in the party were unhappy with it.

“He has liberated us to express our views publicly,” he added.

Click on MORE to see an interesting take on Rahul's Friday rampage...




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