New Delhi / Washington DC: Rahul Gandhi's dramatic declaration that an ordinance hurriedly pushed by the government to protect convicted MPs and MLAs is "complete nonsense," has put Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in an embarrassing spot while away in the US.
Mr Gandhi, vice-president of the ruling Congress, suggested at a press conference today that the ordinance "should be torn up and thrown away." (Analysis: Rahul Gandhi distances himself from political damage)
Amid reports that the government is now likely to withdraw the ordinance, Dr Singh said in Washington, "The Congress Vice-President has also written to me on the issue and also made a statement... The issues raised will be considered on my return to India after due deliberations in the Cabinet." (Read full statement)
Sources say the PM has spoken to Congress President Sonia Gandhi from Washington on this issue and she has assured him of the party's support.
Mr Gandhi, said sources, emailed the PM today, just before he went public with his opposition to the ordinance.
The 43-year-old leader seemed to underscore a divide between party and government, when he said, "I personally think what the government is doing on the ordinance is wrong. It was a political decision, every party does it, and there is a time to stop this nonsense...If we actually want to stop corruption then we cannot make these compromises."
But those in the government close to the PM say the decision to bring an ordinance on convicted legislators was taken by the Congress party at a meeting of top leaders called the core group last Saturday, September 21. Mrs Gandhi was present.
The ordinance overturns a Supreme Court order that elected representatives convicted and sentenced to over two years in prison will be disqualified immediately; it provides that such MPs and MLAs can continue in office, without salary or voting rights, if a higher court stays the conviction on appeal. (Read)
The Congress' political rivals say Mr Gandhi's veto has undermined the Prime Minister's position. "The PM should resign if he has any self-respect," said BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi. The PM's former advisor Sanjaya Baru said he should "take the first flight home."
The BJP, which has opposed the ordinance, has called Mr Gandhi's criticism a "damage-control effort."
"It is clearly a belated realisation...a charade to show the government can make a mistake, but the Congress's first family doesn't," said the BJP's Arun Jaitley. (Political reactions to Rahul Gandhi's comments: who said what)
The ordinance was cleared by the cabinet on Tuesday and sent the next day to President Pranab Mukherjee, who called three union ministers last night reportedly to discuss his own reservations on it. (Read)