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Wary of President, cabinet retreats

Pranab Mukherjee (top), Rahul Gandhi

New Delhi, March 2: The Union cabinet tonight backed off a plan to promulgate a slew of ordinances after the President expressed reservations and some senior ministers questioned the sagacity of the scramble that had the support of Rahul Gandhi.

Sources said President Pranab Mukherjee was of the firm opinion that the government’s drive to fulfil the political commitment through ordinances was incompatible with the constitutional objective behind such a route.

Ordinances are meant to be promulgated in emergencies but the government’s decision to convene the cabinet on a Sunday had drawn charges that the principal objective was to beat the poll schedule announcement and the model code of conduct. Several ministries had sought to squeeze in ordinances other than those dealing with corruption to paper over their inability to get related bills passed in Parliament.

The cabinet did meet this evening but confined itself to clearing a proposal to include Jats in the OBC reservation list in nine states and clearing some amendments to the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act.

Congress sources said they were more or less certain that the President would have formally raised questions had the ordinances, some of which were meant to complete the legal framework to fight corruption, been pushed through.

Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and law minister Kapil Sibal, in addition to Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel, had met the President today to read his mind and to explain the situation in which the ordinances were being considered.

But sources said the President told them that using the special provision in this manner would invite criticism and possibly judicial rap as the government would appear to be dictating the legislative agenda to the next government.

Voices of dissent rose within the cabinet, too. Finally, it was decided not to force the issue.

A section in the Congress feels the last word has not been spoken yet and another attempt to pass the ordinances could be made when the Prime Minister returns from abroad in a couple of days.

The fond hope of another cabinet meeting before the model code of conduct comes into force was expressed by those sections of the Congress which felt the need for granting special category status to Bihar to facilitate an electoral understanding with Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United). The cabinet tonight directed the Panning Commission to implement the decision to grant special category status for Seemandhra for five years.

Congress sources, who revealed that the level of contact with the JD(U) had been upgraded in the past 24 hours, said it was now almost impossible to align with Lalu Prasad’s RJD despite the extension of deadline by him.

Some Congress leaders expressed disappointment with Lalu Prasad and wanted Sonia to nudge the government to grant special status to Bihar in the next few days. The Congress cannot rush into the decision unless a deal is struck with the JD(U).

Briefing the media after the cabinet meeting, information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari said the government decided not to bring in ordinances as it felt important pieces of legislation should be debated in Parliament in conformity with the highest traditions of democracy.

But he did not forget to blame the Opposition for disrupting Parliament, which prevented the passage of the bills designed to fight corruption.

Tewari acknowledged that the issue of bringing in ordinances was discussed at the cabinet meeting but asserted that the Congress was committed to ensuring that the legislation became a reality.

The ordinances on graft may now be a closed chapter but a last-minute cabinet drama cannot be ruled out until the Election Commission declares the dates for the general election.