|Rahul Gandhi in Amethi
on Monday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Sept. 30: The Congress is praising Manmohan Singh daily and insisting that Rahul Gandhi’s line is the party line but it won’t speak about “the timing or venue or language” of the vice-president’s outburst on a hot potato ordinance.
For the second day running, Sonia Gandhi said in southern India: “The whole Congress party stands behind the Prime Minister.”
Asked what the party expected from the government now on the ordinance to protect convicted lawmakers, Congress spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit said: “Rahul’s view is the party’s view. Let’s hope his feeling will be taken into consideration when the cabinet takes up the matter.”
Asked whether Rahul could have forced the government to change the decision without the Press Club drama, Dikshit said: “We don’t know about the timing or venue or language…. You better ask him.”
On whether the country would now be run on the whims of one individual, Dikshit said: “No, the country will be run according to the Constitution. Decisions are often changed in response to opinions.”
Dikshit didn’t give clear answers when asked about the Sonia Gandhi-headed core committee’s role in clearing the ordinance.
The Congress formally said it now expected the Union cabinet to withdraw the ordinance.
Read together, the responses suggest that the Congress is relieved that the ordinance, which was fast becoming a millstone around its neck, is on its way to the burial ground.
The only point it is uncomfortable with appears to be the manner in which Rahul has bailed both the government and the party out of a tricky situation.
The Opposition, which had dropped hints that Rahul’s outburst was orchestrated, fired a taunt.
“Aaplog party chhor dijiye, ya unhe nikal dijiye (Either you leave the party or get him expelled),” BJP president Rajnath Singh said in Calcutta, referring to Congress supporters, Rahul Gandhi and the perceived insult to the Prime Minister.
Government sources said the cabinet would meet on Wednesday to take a call on the ordinance, which Rahul had on Saturday described as a “complete nonsense” that should be “torn up and thrown away”.
Following Rahul’s comments at the Press Club of India, the Prime Minister had said the issue would be “considered on my return to India after due deliberations in the cabinet”.
Party sources informally said there was no question of promulgating the ordinance and that the government had realised its “mistake”.
They said the dominant view in the party was that the Supreme Court order was flawed and required to be “de-legislated”, but bringing an ordinance was politically unwise. A bill on the matter is now before a House standing committee.
“Why take the blame by bringing in the ordinance? Take the parliamentary route, have a studied response through the standing committee,” a party source said.
Many leaders said that party workers across the country were “very happy” and fully endorsed Rahul’s move.
Some of them argued that Rahul had earlier compelled the government to send to a standing committee the bill moved to exempt political parties from the Right to Information Act’s ambit, but was denied credit. So, a public pronouncement of his “frustration” with the system was needed.
These leaders played down the charge that Rahul’s public criticism had undermined the cabinet’s authority, arguing the party needed a leader to fight the next election and wasn’t worried about etiquette or the finer points of constitutionalism.
“At a time Narendra Modi is indulging in meaningless rhetoric, we need a leader who shows real action in cleansing politics. It is immaterial if we achieve that by causing some damage to the government’s reputation,” a senior leader told The Telegraph.
But the party’s official line was cautious. It tried to defend the Prime Minister and avoid questions about Rahul’s conduct.
“It is wrong to say that Rahul insulted the Prime Minister; there is an unnecessary attempt to drag this controversy on to create an impression that Rahul had tried to undermine the Prime Minister’s authority,” spokesperson Dikshit said.
“He only expressed his personal opinion on a subject which was not related to the Prime Minister’s policy, vision or idea of India.”
Asked whether Rahul’s “belated” wisdom had exposed a moral bankruptcy in the Congress and the cabinet, he said: “First, it was not belated. We knew Rahul always felt like that. And we are happy that Rahul’s judgement has been well taken by the party and the government.”
Asked if there was any difference between Modi insulting the Prime Minister and Rahul doing so, Dikshit said: “Rahul didn’t speak a word about the Prime Minister, never hurt his dignity, but Modi’s conduct was shameful.”
He added: “His (Modi’s) dehati aurat (village woman) remark, based on a Pakistani journalist’s tweet, was an insult to the Prime Minister. He tells lies and has no sense of timing as the Prime Minister was on a foreign soil. And what he said turned out to be false. He talks of the PM’s dignity and yet insults him.”