New Delhi: Forced into a corner after a public censure by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, the cabinet, presided over by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Wednesday evening withdrew the controversial ordinance and the bill that sought to save convicted lawmakers from disqualification.
A day after the prime minister indicated that the ordinance could be taken back, the cabinet met for just 20 minutes at his official residence to take the decision, brushing aside the disapproval of some Congress allies.
A visibly hassled Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari, who was among the ministers who had earlier stoutly defended the ordinance, told the media: “The decision of the cabinet to withdraw the ordinance and the bill was unanimous.”
He insisted that the cabinet U-turn did not mean that Manmohan Singh’s authority had been undermined by Rahul Gandhi, the Congress vice president who chose to publicly denounce the ordinance, that too when the prime minister was abroad.
BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi was quick to condemn the Congress-led UPA government.
“The government does not know the pulse of the nation or they would not have brought an ordinance to shield convicted politicians,” he said at an event here.
The writing on the wall was clear since Gandhi’s Sep 27 dramatic outburst that the ordinance was “complete nonsense” and should be “torn up and thrown away”.
The ordinance, now with President Pranab Mukherjee, sought to overrule a Supreme Court ruling that favoured the disqualification of convicted MPs and state legislators.
“Democracy is not a monolithic authoritarian system of government,” Tewari said. “We respect the diversity of views, and there was a view which was articulated by Rahul Gandhi.”
He said Gandhi’s criticism was possibly based on a “wider feedback”.
“Under those circumstances, the (earlier) cabinet decision was reconsidered and it was decided that we would withdraw both the bill and the ordinance.
“It demonstrates that you have a government which is not authoritarian in nature.” The bill would be taken back by parliament “at an appropriate time”.
Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar did not look too happy after the cabinet meeting.
“We (NCP) have communicated our views. What I said was said in complete secrecy. I made my views clear,” the agriculture minister told reporters.
National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah too was blunt: “It was a cabinet decision then, it is a cabinet decision now… I am not upset, but I am not happy.”
According to informed sources, the allies were unhappy that the government wanted to axe the bill also.
They said Pawar and Abdullah expressed reservations over the manner Rahul Gandhi trashed the ordinance and the way the cabinet surrendered.
The road to the ordinance’s burial began early in the morning when Gandhi called on the prime minister to explain his criticism of the ordinance.
Hours later, the Congress core group, including party president Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and other senior leaders, who had last week cleared the ordinance, discussed its likely withdrawal.
Shortly thereafter, the prime minister met President Mukherjee, before the latter began a week-long trip to Turkey and Belgium.
The president, who has not yet given assent to the ordinance passed by the cabinet Sep 24, had sought clarification from two ministers.
Rahul Gandhi’s criticism triggered a political storm, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) saying the prime minister must resign as his authority had come under question. Manmohan Singh has ruled out stepping down.
BJP president Rajnath Singh said the ordinance withdrawal was “better late than never” for the country. The BJP claimed it was its pressure that forced the change of mind.
On July 10, the Supreme Court held as unconstitutional Sector 8(4) of the Representative of People Act and said an MP or state legislator must be immediately disqualified if convicted by a court in a criminal offence with a jail sentence of two years or more.
The UPA government’s desperation to pass the ordinance was widely seen as an attempt to save Congress MP Rasheed Masood, who was Tuesday jailed for four years, and ally and RJD leader Lalu Prasad, who has been convicted in the fodder scam. His jail term will be announced Thursday.
Masood, a Rajya Sabha member, became the first politician to lose his seat in line with the Supreme Court ruling.
Pakistani Anti-graft body wants travel ban on Nawaz Sharif, kin
Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog has asked authorities to place ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law on the Exit Control List to prevent them from leaving the country.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) sent a formal request to the ministry of interior. The interior ministry officials confirmed that the NAB wrote that names of Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar should be put on the Exit Control List (ECL), which listed individuals not allowed to leave Pakistan.
The NAB argued that as the trial of the three nears its conclusion, it is feared that they would leave the country.
Earlier, a similar request to place name of finance minister Ishaq Dar on ECL was not accepted, allowing him to go to London and never return.
Sharif, 68, and his family this week filed an application with the accountability court seeking a fortnight’s exemption from personal appearance from February 19 onwards to let them go to London to see Sharif’s ailing wife. Three cases were filed against Sharif and his family last year, including Avenfield properties, Azizia & Hill Metal Establishment, and Flagship Investments.
Maryam and Safdar are accused only in Avenfield properties case. The NAB had filed two supplementary references against Sharif, his sons Hasan and Hussain regarding Al-Azizia Steel Mills & Hill Metal Establishment and Flagship Investment cases.
Pakistan “breaches obligations’ on nuclear arms reduction, UN court told
The Hague: Pakistan is violating its “obligations” to the international community by failing to reduce its nuclear arsenal, the Marshall Islands told the UN’s highest court on Tuesday.
The small Pacific Island nation is this week launching three unusual cases against India, Pakistan and Britain before the International Court of Justice.
Majuro wants to put a new spotlight on the global nuclear threat, its lawyers said yesterday, by using its own experience with massive US-led nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s.
“Pakistan is in breach of its obligations owed to the international community as a whole,” when it comes to reducing its nuclear stockpile, said Nicholas Grief, one of the island nation’s lawyers.
DeBrum warned that even a “limited nuclear war” involving the two countries would “threaten the existence” of his island nation people.
Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.
In 1998, the rival neighbours both demonstrated nuclear weapons capability.
The ICJ’s judges are holding hearings for the next week and a half to decide whether it is competent to hear the lawsuits brought against India and Pakistan — neither of which have signed the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
A third hearing against Britain — which has signed the NPT — scheduled to start on Wednesday will be devoted to “preliminary objections” raised by London.
The Marshalls initially sought to bring a case against nine countries it said possessed nuclear arms: Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States.
Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons.
But the Hague-based ICJ, set up in 1945 to rule in disputes between states, has only admitted three cases against Britain, India and Pakistan, because they have accepted the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction.
Pakistan’s lawyers did not attend Tuesday’s hearings.
It did however file a counter-claim against Majuro’s allegations saying “the court has no jurisdiction to deal with the application” and insisting that the case is “not admissible”, said ICJ President Ronny Abraham.
Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus
New Delhi: Bangladesh is likely to drop Islam as its official religion following a series of attacks on people from other faiths in the country. The country’s Supreme Court is hearing a plea challenging the status of the official religion of the country to Islam.
Bangladesh, which was declared a secular country after its formation in 1971, was declared an Islamic country following a constitutional amendment in 1988.
According to a report in the Daily Mail, the plea has challenged the declaration of Islam as the national religion of the country.
The move is being supported by leaders from the minority communities like Hindus, Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.
Bangladesh has 90 per cent of Muslims, 8 per cent Hindus and remaining constitutes Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.
In last month, a Hindu priest was hacked to death following an attack on a temple in Panchgarh district. Two others were seriously injured in the attack. There have been several lethal attacks on writers and bloggers.
According to a report in the Independent, Islamist groups Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh and Ansarullah Bangla Team are believed to have carried out at least seven attacks on foreign and minority people in Bangladesh in the past year.
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