|Rahul Gandhi at the news meet on Friday where he rejected the ordinance. (PTI)
New Delhi, Sept. 28: Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who had almost withdrawn herself from party affairs, is being forced to take centrestage to deal with the situation thrown up by Rahul Gandhi’s outburst that was greeted with unusual silence by several ministers today.
Ministers and senior leaders refused to speak on the topic — an unfamiliar situation in a Congress that competes to echo the supreme leader.
The circumspection is being seen as a reflection of the confusion within the party, which is trying to figure out whether Rahul’s action on the ordinance was a brazen bid to undermine the sanctity of the cabinet system and the Prime Minister or whether it was a spontaneous reaction provoked by feedback from the ground on the unpopular measure.
Sources said Sonia spoke to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh twice yesterday and categorically told him that the entire party was behind him. Her role in calming the situation becomes crucial as the government and party leaders are aware of her decisive support to the ordinance to overturn the Supreme Court’s verdict on convicted legislators.
Insiders revealed that it was an angry Sonia who had forced Rahul to write a polite letter to the Prime Minister which was emailed to him last evening after Rahul had written a candid denouncement of the ordinance on his own around 1pm.
The second letter laid emphasis on Rahul’s “greatest admiration” for the Prime Minister’s leadership, an afterthought aimed at diluting the impact of the perceived public humiliation of the government.
Ever since her illness, Sonia had stepped back and persuaded Rahul to more or less take charge. But the latest intervention suggests that the party still depends on Sonia to tackle a crisis that needs to be addressed delicately.
Rahul had described the ordinance as “complete nonsense” and said what the government did was “wrong”. That created a deep sense of disquiet in the government as senior ministers had been aggressively defending the ordinance despite reservations in some sections.
No senior cabinet minister has yet come out in the open on their own to endorse Rahul’s conduct. Although junior ministers like Shashi Tharoor and Milind Deora hailed Rahul for “breaking ranks” and asked the government to “rectify its mistake” in true democratic spirit, these voices mean little in the midst of the turmoil.
Not only government leaders but no senior in the party has chosen to rationalise Rahul’s action though many said he had sent out a positive message to ordinary party workers across the country.
A senior leader said: “So far, we had been struggling to defend this government against the attacks of the BJP. Now we will look foolish defending this government. The best course is to throw away this baggage and begin anew. The question is whether Soniaji and the rest of the party are ready to go along with Rahul on this path. All these questions make the future course more difficult for the party. Rahul should have assessed these complexities before taking the plunge.”
Some people feel Rahul has willy-nilly foreclosed the option of projecting Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister for a third term and left no room for doubt that he has replaced Sonia as the supreme leader in the party. They do not view this as a problem as Rahul has been accepted as the party’s future by everybody but the majority of them would have preferred a smooth transition.
Some are happy as they believe only an honest outburst could have helped Rahul make a clean break from the record of UPA-II and any cautious rejection of the ordinance would have looked like political scheming.
The next few days are going to be crucial and Sonia’s task of harmonising the two conflicting positions will not be easy. The attitude of the Prime Minister, who will discuss this matter in the cabinet either on October 3 or 4 after his return to Delhi, will be vital as the scene can change dramatically if he chooses to do something drastic.