India's Rahul Gandhi slams move to shield convicted politicians

NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - India's Nehru-Gandhi dynasty scion Rahul Gandhi on Friday slammed a Cabinet move to protect politicians found guilty of crimes, embarrassing the government led by his own party just months from a general election.

About 30 per cent of lawmakers across federal and state assemblies have criminal charges against them.

The government has come under fire since it passed an order this week that could allow convicted lawmakers to continue to hold office and stand in elections. Critics say the move was designed to shield allies that Mr Gandhi's Congress party may need to form a ruling coalition after elections due by next May.

A contender for prime minister if Congress returns to power, the normally publicity-shy Gandhi called a news conference to lambast the ordinance passed on Tuesday by a government that has been dogged for years by corruption scandals.

"My opinion on the ordinance is that it's complete nonsense and it should be torn up and thrown out," he said. "I feel, personally feel, that what our government has done as far as this ordinance is concerned is wrong."

Mr Gandhi's rare public utterances mean that there is huge interest in what he says when he does speak. Little is known about what the 43-year-old thinks about important issues of the day and what he would do if he were to become prime minister.

His father, grandmother and great-grandfather were prime ministers and his mother, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, who is head of the Congress party, is arguably India's most powerful politician.

The Congress party appointed him as its vice-president this year to boost his profile. But he has been eclipsed by Narendra Modi, a charismatic pro-business leader who is now the prime ministerial candidate of the opposition Bhratiya Janata Party.

Commentators on Indian TV news channels said Rahul Gandhi may have stepped into the convicted politicians debate to distance himself from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his corruption-tainted cabinet ahead of the election.