New Delhi/Washington: Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi Friday threw a political bombshell when he publicly rubbished a controversial ordinance passed by the union cabinet as "wrong" and "complete nonsense" and one that deserved to be "torn and thrown away".
But within hours, Rahul Gandhi wrote to the prime minister saying he had the highest respect for him and hoped he would understand the strength of his conviction.
The letter is seen as a move to dispel the notion that Rahul's criticism was a public snub to the prime minister and a challenge to the collective decision of the cabinet and Congress core group.
In his letter to Manmohan Singh, who is in the US, Gandhi said, "I realise that what I feel about the Ordinance is not in harmony with the cabinet decision and the core group's view.
"I also know it would be exploited by our political opponents. You know that I have the highest respect for you and I look up to you for your wisdom.
"I have nothing but the greatest admiration for the manner in which you are providing leadership in extremely difficult circumstances. I hope you will understand the strength of my own conviction about this very controversial issue."
The letter was made public by the Congress party.
Earlier Friday, at an impromptu press conference at the Press Club of India, Rahul Gandhi tore into the ordinance, saying: "My opinion of the ordinance is that it is complete nonsense. It should be torn up and thrown away."
"What the government has done is wrong," Gandhi told surprised journalists. "It is time to stop this nonsense."
Ahead of holding talks with President Barack Obama, Manmohan Singh issued a statement in Washington that the issues raised would be considered by the cabinet on his return to India next week.
He said "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 prime minister said, referring to the letter written by Rahul Gandhi.
"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 statement said.
Rahul's mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi is understood to have called up Manmohan Singh and spoken to him after her son's comments.
At the Press Club, Rahul said the ordinance was born out of "political considerations" and it was time "political parties, including mine, should stop making these kind of compromises".
"..We cannot continue make these small compromises," said the de facto number two in Congress party. He refused to take any other questions, indicating that he had just come to give his "personal opinion".
Visibly irked with the statement, Sanjaya Baru, a former aide to the prime minister, in fact suggested that Manmohan Singh should resign and Rahul Gandhi should apologise to him for undermining his position and authority.
The ordinance that was cleared Tuesday by the cabinet, headed by the prime minister, seeks to protect convicted lawmakers. The prime minister left the next day on a five-day visit to the US.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders were quick in asking that the prime minister should resign.
The dramatic pronouncements were immediately termed as "grandstanding", "a charade" and aimed at "damage control" by the BJP, while the Left leader Gurudas Dasgupta said he was "baffled" by Rahul Gandhi's comment.
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said in Washington that Rahul Gandhi's comments were not aimed to undermine the position of the prime minister.
BJP leader Arun Jaitley said "the whole country is waiting to see if the prime minister has any self-respect left. Whether he accepts the decision of his cabinet being called nonsense."
The Congress ministers, who were till the morning defending the ordinance, made a u-turn to support Rahul Gandhi, the party's emerging star.
The ordinance is with President Pranab Mukherjee, who has already sought clarifications from Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Law Minister Kapil Sibal. The ordinance seeks to overturn the Supreme Court ruling that disqualifies convicted MPs and legislators.
Maken, who till moments ago was defending the ordinance, said the Congress was now opposed to it.
"Rahul Gandhi is our leader. His view is now the official view of the Congress party. If he opposes the ordinance, the Congress also opposes it," he said as journalists thronged around him after Rahul Gandhi left.
"He does not want persons with criminal background to get elected to the parliament or state legislatures."
Hinting what could be the fate of the ordinance, Maken further said: "The view of the Congress should be supreme."