Undermined before Obama meeting, PM puts up brave face: will consider issues

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stood completely undermined hours before his high-powered meeting with US President Barack Obama Friday after news broke that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had trashed the ordinance to protect convicted MPs and MLAs the PM had approved of before his departure.

Caught completely off guard by Rahul's statement that the ordinance was "nonsense" and should be "torn up and thrown out", an embarrassed PMO had little to say except indicate that a decision would only be taken on Singh's return to India. They, however, added that the Congress vice- president had also written to the PM on the issue.

"The ordinance cleared by the cabinet pertaining to the Representation of the People Act has been a matter of much public debate. The Congress vice-president has also written to me on the issue and also made a statement. The government is seized of all these developments. The issues raised will be considered on my return to India after due deliberations in the cabinet," the PM said in a statement just before his meeting with Obama.

While Congress insiders sought to make the point that Rahul's remarks should be seen in the context of his views about the prevalent "political culture", the fact is it has left the PM utterly embarrassed on foreign soil. To the extent that the PM's close associates such as former media advisor Sanjaya Baru suggested that he should now step down.

"This amounts to insubordination of the Prime Minister when he is travelling abroad. It's not done. He should now step down," Baru told The Indian Express from Delhi.

What has taken authorities by surprise is that the Bill on this subject, which now stands referred to the standing committee, was a product of all-party consultation. The Congress, sources said, was also part of these discussions and also the consensus. The ordinance, which has been criticised outside Parliament, was again a decision the party knew and it had been cleared by its core group.

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