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Rahul's attempt to distance his party — and himself — from government is belated and unconvincing.
Rahul Gandhi's afternoon ambush leaves the Manmohan Singh government nowhere to hide. This was not an intervention by just any Congress politician on a contentious move — this government has had more than its fair share of rebels within. This was the Congress vice-president calling the government's ordinance "nonsense", fit to be "torn up and thrown away". Gandhi has long courted the role and image of The Outsider. In his rare public outings, he has ranged himself against The System and taken advantage of the insulation from responsibility that such a positioning brings with it. Yet, even he could not have been unaware of the implications of speaking out after the ordinance had been cleared by the cabinet, was subsequently defended by senior ministers and is being actively considered by the president. There can be only one conclusion: voters will get the opportunity to pronounce a verdict on this government a few months later but the Congress vice-president has already expressed his own lack of confidence in it.
Even as it has the effect of apparently taking his party unawares and placing its already beseiged government in an awkward spot, Gandhi's timing raises questions about his political judgement and style. Why did he wait for so long to publicly express his reservations on whether or not legislators should be given a reprieve after conviction? Ever since the Supreme Court struck down the legal provision that protects lawmakers from immediate disqualification after conviction, there has been a vivid public discussion on the issue. An all-party meeting was held, in which, except the CPI and the BJD, parties endorsed the government's intent to bring a law to counter the court. A law was introduced in Rajya Sabha, but was referred to a parliamentary standing committee after the BJP did a volte face. And that was when the government made the misguided decision to push it through an ordinance. At each step of this protracted process, the Congress vice-president could have stepped in to influence his party, public debate and arguably the government's decision. He didn't. And when he finally did, he undermined the PM's authority and prerogative.