India's Sonia Gandhi declares strong support for embattled PM

India's Sonia Gandhi declares strong support for embattled PM

NEW DELHI - The head of India's ruling party strongly defended Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday, just days after her son heaped embarrassment on him and his government over a move to protect convicted MPs.

Sonia Gandhi, the country's most powerful politician, said the Congress party firmly "stands behind" the prime minister after her son Rahul Gandhi, number two in the party hierarchy, branded a government decree "complete nonsense".

She also attacked the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for "making fun" of Singh and slighting the achievements of her party, which faces an uphill battle to win elections next year after almost a decade in power.

"They (the BJP) ridicule our achievements. They make fun of our party, our prime minister. I want to tell them that our whole party stands behind the prime minister," Gandhi said at a rally in the southern state of Karnataka.

"It was under his leadership that all these achievements have been made," she added.

Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, on Friday slammed the decree which is meant to stop politicians convicted of serious crimes from being thrown out of parliament - a startling move that embarrassed Singh's government.

The decree seeks to overturn a Supreme Court ruling, that politicians convicted of crimes should be disqualified from office.

The government has argued that the ruling was unfair, saying politicians can be convicted on "frivolous grounds".

Singh is widely expected to step aside after the elections due by May next year.

The premier has also come under attack from the BJP, which is seeking to overthrow the Congress-led coalition government, dogged by a slew of corruption scandals and battling to boost sluggish economic growth.

On Sunday Narendra Modi, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, branded Singh as weak and lacking the courage to take up important issues on the global stage.

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