The “nonsense” drama ended on Wednesday, as scripted. The Prime Minister did not resign, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi did not offer a public apology, the controversial ‘Lalu ordinance’ was withdrawn, the Bill on convicted lawmakers was killed and nothing changed for the UPA Government.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s former aides had wanted him to resign as soon as he returned from his US visit, to spite Rahul Gandhi and take on the Congress leadership.

Instead, on Tuesday, on board his aircraft, he ruled out resigning, received Rahul on Wednesday morning, met with the Congress leadership soon after and called on President Pranab Mukherjee in the afternoon to brief him. The controversial ordinance, which would have sidestepped a Supreme Court judgment disqualifying convicted MPs and MLAs, was withdrawn.

Rahul’s meeting with the Prime Minister was seen as a move to assuage Singh’s hurt, if any, and to explain the outburst against the ordinance at the Delhi Press Club, last Friday. “It was not an expression of regret as is being made out by some quarters. Rahul explained why he had to take such a strong stand on the ordinance and Manmohan Singh realised that the public mood was against it,” explained a Congress insider.

Later a Congress core group meeting, attended by Singh, Sonia Gandhi, her political secretary Ahmed Patel and Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, among others, agreed to withdraw the ordinance.

The party and the Government were rattled when President Mukherjee last week pointed out infirmities in the ordinance, which had ignited public ire and drawn flak from the Opposition and the media.

The Cabinet, which met on Wednesday evening, duly decided to withdraw the ordinance and the Bill on convicted lawmakers, putting an end to one of the most riveting political dramas of recent times. The issue has raised questions on the balance of power between the Congress and the UPA government and between Rahul Gandhi and the Prime Minister.

This episode only proved that while the party agrees with Singh’s policy initiatives, such as the nuclear deal or FDI in retail, he has to accommodate organisational concerns and make U-turns in response to public sentiment. While many senior UPA Cabinet members disapproved of the language and character of Rahul’s outburst, they did not doubt the efficacy of his intervention.

Even during the NDA rule, then Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee had at times taken orders from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the organisational powerhouse behind the BJP’s political rise.

Allies unhappy

Earlier on Wednesday, UPA allies Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the National Conference (NC) pointed fingers at Rahul Gandhi.

Tariq Anwar of the NCP said that nobody else in the Congress could have got away with a similar statement. Minister for New and Renewable Energy and NC leader Farooq Abdullah insisted that Rahul was misguided.

The Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal, supporting the UPA from outside, expressed their disapproval, with the SP even terming the withdrawal as a “conspiracy against democracy”.

rajesh.ramachandran@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on October 2, 2013)
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