NEW DELHI – Ruling Congress party scion Rahul Gandhi’s blistering rejection of a government decree to protect convicted lawmakers has made it uncertain whether Prime Minister Manmohan Singh can continue in office, opposition and media said Saturday.
Gandhi, the No. 2 in the Congress hierarchy, turned on Singh’s government Friday, calling its move to allow convicted criminals to serve in parliament “complete nonsense.”
Singh “stands diminished,” Arun Jaitley, a leader of the Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, said Saturday.
“If he’s undermined like this as prime minister, he won’t even be a footnote in history,” Jaitley told NDTV, adding: “He should quit if he has any self-respect.”
“Rahul drops bomb on PM, government,” said mass circulation The Hindustan Times in a banner headline.
The daily said Gandhi undercut Singh “at the worst possible time” — when he was on a U.S. visit to meet President Barack Obama, address the U.N. and hold talks with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Shekhar Gupta, editor of the influential Indian Express, said it will be “heartbreaking” if Singh chose to remain in office in the face of this latest “humiliation.”
While Singh won a place in history as the man who lit the fuse for India’s rapid growth in the 1990s, when he was finance minister, his reputation has taken a battering during his time as prime minister.
The 81-year-old, a Gandhi dynasty loyalist, has seen his reputation as “Mr. Clean” tarnished.
He has been accused of turning a blind eye to a string of government corruption scandals that have brought repeated opposition calls for him to resign.
The government decree seeks to overturn a Supreme Court ruling that politicians convicted of crimes should be barred from contesting elections. It was reportedly steered by Singh.
Gandhi told reporters in New Delhi on Friday that the ordinance was “complete nonsense and should be torn up,” adding: “If you want to fight corruption in the country . . . we cannot continue making these small compromises.”