All in all, Congress must be licking its chops for seemingly executing a neat political strategy. But there could be some deleterious collateral damage lurking in the shadows. It now turns out Manmohan Singh will have to become the fall guy for having persisted with an ordinance that allowed elected legislators with criminal convictions to continue in Parliament.
For those who tuned in late, the Cabinet passed an ordinance on September 24, 2013, called Representation of the People (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2013. The ordinance sought to negate a Supreme Court ruling of July 10, which said that legislators would be disqualified immediately if convicted by a court for a sentence of two years or more. The immediate concern for rushing ahead with an ordinance – instead of waiting for Parliament to reconvene – was apparently the imminent sentencing of RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav (an important ally for Congress ) and Congress politician Rasheed Masood. The BJP – which was ambivalent initially – weighed its assets against its criminal liabilities and figured opposing the ordinance made more sense.
Then as suddenly as the ordinance was sprung on an unsuspecting public, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi parachuted into a press conference being addressed by Ajay Maken and announced his displeasure with the ordinance. He called the ordinance “a complete nonsense” and suggested that it be “torn and thrown away!” There was a collective gasp from across the country because this comment was made when the prime Minister was in USA. As soon as he returned, in a show of amazing alacrity, the same Cabinet withdrew the ordinance on October 2. (for a complete chronology of events, read here)
|Manmohan Singh & Rahul Gandhi in happier times. Pix courtesy of AFP|
What does all this indicate? Here are a few stray thoughts and my take on the entire episode:
* This was a deliberate ploy. It was planned and executed to make Rahul Gandhi come out smelling like roses. The casualty will be the Cabinet members, who are all older than the young party vice-prez. The upshot, as Congress poll managers would want it to appear: the geriatric Cabinet wanted to protect status quo but the vigilant youth forced the change. This hypothesis seems credible because one suddenly noticed Congress party lightweights, considered to be members of RG’s charmed circle, openly tweeting against the ordinance even before the dramatic press conference (read it here). It seems unlikely that, under normal circumstances, they would have had the gumption to openly criticise an ordinance cleared by the Cabinet. Unless of course they had instructions from somebody senior in the party.
* The party went ahead with the ordinance in the belief that all parties would support it. But, with elections so near, BJP stole some of the television thunder by publicly venting their ire against the ordinance. They even met the President to express their disappointment with the proposed legislation. Public mood seemed to be turning against the ordinance; there were rumblings within other political parties too. Civil society was agitated. Sensing that the mood was turning, Congress must have decided to turn the liability into a show of virtue.
The collateral damage could be Manmohan Singh who comes out of this episode looking rather sheepish and servile. He also emerges as a political relic, charging down the road with a legislation that favoured a venal brand of politics. He is also likely to be branded – subtly of course – as the man who was responsible for wrecking the economy and somebody who now must make way for the impatient and ambitious youth. This is unfortunate and undeserved for MMS – it’s like a bum ride into the sunset for somebody who went through public life with his probity and value system intact.
But there could be one proverbial fly in the ointment – the deliberate slight to Manmohan Singh still raises issues about dynastic politics. This may not go down well with young voters and, as sure as the sun rises from the east, the Opposition isn’t likely to let this opportunity slip away. In the end, it will be interesting to see who and what influences the young finger on the button.