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Gandhi Scion Slams Singh’s Order Over Convicts in Parliament

Sept. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Rahul Gandhi, deputy leader of India’s ruling party, criticized Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s order to allow convicted lawmakers to hold office, distancing his family from the government ahead of elections.

Singh’s cabinet issued an executive order on Sept. 24, reversing a court ban on legislators found guilty of crimes from holding public positions. In a rare interaction with reporters in the nation’s capital New Delhi, Gandhi, 43, who is the vice president of the Congress party that leads Singh’s coalition government, said the decision is wrong.

“My view is the ordinance is complete nonsense,” he said. “It should be torn up and thrown away.” Singh “will deal with the matter” upon his return from the U.S., the Press Trust of India reported, citing his aides it didn’t identify.

India’s Supreme Court, in a bid to curb the growing criminality in the world’s largest democracy, issued the ruling on July 10 to help close a loophole that allowed repeated appeals against convictions. The number of lawmakers charged with offenses has more than doubled in the last 15 years.

Singh will consider the issues raised by Gandhi after deliberations with the Cabinet upon his return to India, his office said in a statement. He is currently in the U.S.

About a quarter of federal and state legislators face charges that include murder, rape and kidnapping, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms, which has campaigned for better governance since 1999.

‘Illegal, Immoral’

The ordinance, which has yet to get the consent of President Pranab Mukherjee, has been opposed by the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and social activists. BJP has urged Mukherjee not to ratify order, which it called “illegal, immoral and unconstitutional.”

“The unusual move by the young Congress leader has embarrassed Singh and dented the image of the government,” said Satish Misra, an analyst at the Observer Research Foundation, a policy group based in New Delhi. “As Congress faces elections in coming months, it has given more weight to popular sentiment than its own government’s standing.”

Singh’s cabinet brought the executive order after Congress party failed to pass a similar legislation this month to negate the Supreme Court ban.

According to the ordinance, lawmakers found guilty of offenses that carry punishments of more than two years in jail won’t lose their seats if they appeal within 90 days and a court defers sentencing, while they won’t be entitled to vote or receive a salary. The Supreme Court ruling would have immediately barred lawmakers from office after a court finds them guilty.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bibhudatta Pradhan in New Delhi at bpradhan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Niveditha Ravi at nravi2@bloomberg.net

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