- POSTED: 02 Oct 2013 23:22
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India's government took a U-turn on Wednesday on a move to protect convicted lawmakers after ruling Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi blasted the policy as "nonsense" in comments that opened up a rift with the prime minister.
NEW DELHI: India's government took a U-turn on Wednesday on a move to protect convicted lawmakers after ruling Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi blasted the policy as "nonsense" in comments that opened up a rift with the prime minister.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's cabinet approved an executive order last month intended to overturn a Supreme Court ruling that national and state lawmakers convicted of serious crimes should be ejected from public office.
Following a cabinet meeting, Information Minister Manish Tewari acknowledged Gandhi's opposition, and said that "under those circumstances the decision was reconsidered" and the order, also called an ordinance, had been taken back.
The ordinance was decried by the main political opposition as unconstitutional, and condemned by anti-corruption activists who questioned the government's commitment to battling growing graft in India ahead of elections next year.
The Congress party had earlier moved a bill in parliament to protect lawmakers, but was unable to pass it. The bill will also be withdrawn in the upcoming winter session of the national assembly.
Gandhi, number two in the Congress party and chief election campaigner for Congress, dismissed the executive order last week as "complete nonsense" while Singh was on a US visit.
Singh met Gandhi, the new generation of the Gandhi-Nehru political dynasty, at his home on Wednesday morning for about 30 minutes, where the young leader reportedly apologised for the bluntness of his comments.
Amid speculation about his future, Singh stated there was "no question of resigning" as he returned from meetings with US President Barack Obama and Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif.
He also said that the ordinance had been discussed twice in cabinet and approved by the Congress party high command, headed by Gandhi's mother Sonia, which raised questions as to why Rahul had waited to air his opposition publicly.
The cabinet's ordinance would have shielded government ally Lalu Prasad Yadav, who was convicted this week of corruption. But some observers said it sent the wrong message before elections next year when graft is set to be a key issue.
"Better late than never," said Rajnath Singh, chief of main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after the cabinet decision.
The government had argued that the Supreme Court ruling barring convicted law makers from office was unfair because it did not take into account if they had appealed against their sentences.
Ministers also said that MPs were often targeted in frivolous legal cases which could lead to them being unfairly disqualified.
Disqualification would only apply for serious crimes carrying a sentence of more than three years.