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Rahul protest forces government to axe ordinance, bill

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Rahul protest forces government to axe ordinance, bill
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New Delhi: Forced into a corner after the public censure by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, the cabinet presided over by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday withdrew the controversial ordinance and the bill that sought to save convicted lawmakers from disqualification.

A day after the prime minister indicated that the ordinance could be taken back, the cabinet met for just 20 minutes in the evening at Manmohan Singh's official residence to take the decision, brushing aside the disapproval of some Congress allies.

A hassled looking Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari told the media: "The decision of the cabinet to withdraw the ordinance and the bill was unanimous."

He insisted that the cabinet U-turn did not mean that the authority of the prime minister, who had earlier backed the ordinance, had been undermined by Rahul Gandhi, the Congress vice president.

The writing on the wall was clear since Gandhi's Sep 27 dramatic outburst that the ordinance was "complete nonsense" and should be "torn up and thrown away".

The ordinance, now with President Pranab Mukherjee, sought to overrule a Supreme Court ruling that favoured the disqualification of convicted MPs and state legislators from their legislatures.

Tewari sought to give Congress-led UPA credit for going back on its own decision.

"Democracy is not a monolithic authoritarian system of government," he said. "We respect the diversity of views, and there was a view which was articulated by Rahul Gandhi."

He said Gandhi's criticism of the ordinance was possibly based on a "wider feedback".

"Under those circumstances, the (earlier) cabinet decision was reconsidered and it was decided that we would withdraw both the bill and the ordinance.

"It demonstrates that you have a government which is not authoritarian in nature." Tewari said the bill would be taken back by parliament at an appropriate time.

But Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, who was not in agreement with Wednesday's move, did not look too happy as he came out of the cabinet meeting.

"We (NCP) have communicated our views. What I said was said in complete secrecy. I made my views clear," the agriculture minister told reporters.

National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, who too was not at home with the U-turn, was blunt: "It was a cabinet decision then, it is a cabinet decision now... I am not upset, but I am not happy."

The road to the ordinance's burial began early in the morning when Rahul Gandhi called on the prime minister to explain his public criticism of the ordinance when Manmohan Singh was in the US.

No details of the Manmohan-Rahul meeting were available.

Hours later, the Congress core group, including party president Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and other senior leaders, who had last week cleared the ordinance, discussed its likely withdrawal.

Shortly thereafter, the prime minister met President Mukherjee, before the latter began a week-long trip to Turkey and Belgium.

The president has not yet given assent to the ordinance passed by the cabinet Sep 24. He had sought clarification from two ministers.

Rahul Gandhi's criticism of the ordinance triggered a political storm, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) saying the prime minister must step down as his authority had come under question.

On Tuesday, Manmohan Singh ruled out his resignation over the issue.

BJP president Rajnath Singh said Wednesday that the ordinance withdrawal was "better late than never" for the country. The BJP claimed it was its pressure that forced the change of mind.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar hailed the cabinet decision. And so did the Trinamool Congress but said the re-think by cabinet betrayed "lack of maturity".

Targeting Rahul Gandhi, Samajwadi Party leader Naresh Agarwal said earlier that if the ordinance was withdrawn, it would prove the Gandhi scion was bigger than the central government.

On July 10, the Supreme Court held as unconstitutional Sector 8(4) of the Representative of People Act and said an MP or state legislator must be immediately disqualified if convicted by a court in a criminal offence with a jail sentence of two years or more.

The UPA government's desperation to pass the ordinance was widely seen as an attempt to save Congress MP Rasheed Masood, who was Tuesday jailed for four years, and ally and RJD leader Lalu Prasad, who has been convicted in the fodder scam. His jail term will be announced Thursday.

Masood, a Rajya Sabha member, became the first politician to lose his seat in line with the Supreme Court ruling.

IANS

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