New Delhi: In what has come as a major embarrassment for the Congress-led UPA government, the Union Cabinet on Wednesday decided to withdraw the controversial ordinance as well as the bill protecting the convicted lawmakers.
According to reports, both the ordinance and the bill, which was moved by the Centre to protect the tainted lawmakers and was referred to the standing Committee of the Parliament in the wake of strong criticism from several quarters, would be withdrawn when Parliament session convenes.
Confirming the development, Union I&B Minister “Manish Tewari said, “Yes, Central Govt was in favour of ordinance, but Union Cabinet has taken a decision & I am just communicating the same to you. The Union Cabinet has decided to withdraw the ordinance and bill and the process to withdraw them will be initiated in the Parliament.”
Meanwhile, the main opposition party, the BJP, welcomed the decision but said that the Centre’s actions are mere political gimmick.
BJP chief Rajnath Singh and later party spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the reversal of the policy once again showed that in the Congress regime Prime Minister does not matter and what matters is the dynasty as the government bowed to it.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi had recently termed the ordinance as “nonsense” and said that it should be torn and thrown away.
The decision was taken during the Union Cabinet meet reportedly attended by the Prime Minister and all senior Congress and UPA ministers.
The ordinance provoked criticism from Opposition parties and the public as an attempt to override a Supreme Court decision that disqualifies MPs and state legislators from office if they are convicted in criminal cases.
Ahead of the Union Cabinet meeting, the Congress Core Group met shortly after Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi held discussions with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and favoured withdrawal of the Ordinance intended to protect convicted lawmakers from immediate disqualification.
The meet, chaired by the PM at his 7, Race Course residence here, was also attended by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, her political secretary Ahmed Patel, and Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde. According to reports, P Chidambaram and AK Antony did not attend the crucial meet.
The Core Group is believed to have agreed that it would be better for the government to withdraw the Ordinance in view of public sentiments against it.
With Rahul making a public issue of it, the option for the government appeared very little, sources said.
All pros and cons were discussed and a decision was left to the Union Cabinet, which met this evening.
The PM soon after went to the Rashtrapati Bhavan to meet President Pranab Mukherjee to discuss the Ordinance, which has created a political furore ahead of the 2014 General Elections. The PM reportedly told the President that the Ordinance will be withdrawn.
Earlier in the day, the PM met Rahul in a bid to “find out the reasons” why the Congress vice president had chosen to rubbish the government’s Ordinance that shields convicted lawmakers, “that way”.
During the meeting, which lasted for around 25 minutes, Rahul is understood to have explained his reasons for opposing the move. He is also believed to have told the PM that he didn’t undermine the authority of the PM or his Cabinet with his statement that the Ordinance, which was cleared by the Cabinet, was “complete nonsense” and should be “torn up and thrown away”.
He reportedly told the PM that he had only expressed the feelings of the nation and did not intend to embarrass him with his public censure.
The Congress vice president also reportedly expressed regret for the language and timing of his outburst on the ordinance.
Notably, the PM was in the US when Rahul made this statement at a press conference arranged in actual to defend the Ordinance. The Prime Minister on Tuesday had hinted about his unhappiness with the timing and way of Rahul’s attack over the Ordinance.
Rahul Gandhi, however, remained opposed to the Ordinance.
In his defence, the Prime Minister said the Ordinance was discussed twice by the Cabinet and also by the Congress core group – the top decision-making body of the party.
Making it clear that he was not undermining Singh’s authority in any way, the Congress vice president had on the same day wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, saying that he has the “greatest admiration” for his leadership in extremely difficult circumstances.
Many saw Rahul’s outburst on the Ordinance as an embarrassment for the Prime Minister and the Opposition vociferously demanded that Singh, who was on a visit to the US at the time, should step down after his return.
(With PTI inputs)