Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made it clear to his detractors that he was in no mood to give up office in the near future. The reiteration within four months of his press conference in May was made during an interaction with select editors of print publications recently. It assumes significance since there has been speculation whether he would last his full term or make way for someone else.
Singh also sought to convey that he is in full control of things and would reshuffle his Council of Ministers probably before the winter session of Parliament to give it a more youthful look. He also made it evident that there was nothing wrong with his Cabinet, that it was cohesive and even though there were differences of opinion sometimes, once he took the decision, it was the last word. To drive home his point, he talked about how the Cabinet was badly divided when Indira Gandhi had Morarji Desai as her deputy in the 60s.
Singh’s remarks have led to widespread speculation regarding the objective behind his unprecedented meeting with the editors. There are political analysts who believe that he has tried to convey some basic points. One was that there was nothing wrong with his government and if there was any perception about things not being in control it was because of elements within the party. Second, he had a mandate to be prime minister for five years especially because he was projected as the PM candidate during the 2009 parliamentary poll. Third, by citing examples of Morarji and Sardar Patel, both deputy prime ministers, he pre-empted any possible move to appoint a deputy PM.
Fourth, the prime minister defended Sharad Pawar’s views on the Supreme Court’s advice regarding foodgrain distribution among the poor and maintained that policy-making was the sole prerogative of the executive. Pawar’s defence assumes political importance since he has been targeted by Congress leaders.
The impression conveyed by this was that the prime minister was making an attempt to consolidate his position among the allies in his government. He had earlier been indulgent to even Mamata Banerjee and has so far refused to say anything against A. Raja of the DMK who is in the eye of the spectrum scandal. It raises a suspicion that Singh is wary of his own party leaders and is aligning with allies.
The aftermath of the interaction also had the Congress spokespersons going out of the way to defend even the distorted versions of the meeting which were shown on a few TV channels. Giving a spin to the meet, some media publications have also come out with stories of how Manmohan Singh considered his team better than even Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi’s governments. He had never stated this but his comments were obviously taken out of context and wrongly interpreted.
There is also speculation whether Singh can indeed reshuffle his pack when the exercise will also need the concurrence of the Congress president. The UPA chairperson has not said a word about it so far. Both Sonia Gandhi and Singh seem to be believers in the status quo and unless the revamping actually takes place, it is hard to say what may happen.
The media interaction where Singh appeared combative, frank and assertive gives credence to various kinds of stories doing the rounds about his relationship with his own party and its bosses. The timing also coincides with Rahul Gandhi’s renewed efforts to make his presence felt in different parts of the country, particularly in West Bengal where he lashed out at the Communists thereby virtually ruling out a future tie-up with them. Rahul’s detractors feel that his (Rahul’s) criticism must have come as a big relief to the Americans and right-wingers who are taking a deep interest in the subcontinent and its affairs.
But the PM is in no hurry to step down. This is the clear signal he has sent out to his party and the country. At present Singh is King. Between us.