Congress president Sonia Gandhi cold-shouldered HRD Minister Arjun Singh by refusing to acknowledge his presence or his contribution to education at a function on Saturday, a day after he alleged lack of internal democracy in the party and its changing yardsticks of loyalty. At a Rashtrapati Bhawan investiture ceremony a few hours later, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stonewalled queries on his cabinet colleague by merely describing him as a respected senior leader.
With the top leadership making public their displeasure, several other partymen took potshots at Singh in a trend that is likely to gain momentum in the coming days. Taking a cue from R K Dhawan, former Chhattisgarh CM Ajit Jogi castigated as improper Singh’s insinuations. He said Sonia often encouraged the minister to take the floor at CWC meetings. AICC spokesman Manish Tiwari said the party held consultations and dialogue at various levels.
Former UPCC chief Salman Khurshid, while disapproving Singh’s seemingly tendentious observations, felt that a disciplinary response would give the minister cannon fodder to embarrass the party further. If these leaders stopped short of demanding action against Singh, it was perhaps on account of the approaching assembly and Lok Sabha elections in the run up to which the party may not want the controversy to snowball. But from the tenability test normally applied internally by Congressmen, Singh's position has become awkward. Many observers also linked the latest exchange of words with the prompt riposte delivered earlier to the veteran leader's unilateral suggestions of Rahul Gandhi's prime ministerial potential.
The leadership had at that time interpreted the remarks as being aimed at causing discomfiture to the PM. The subsequent statements by the AICC and Rahul himself were all aimed at distancing the party from Singh's remarks. In fact, the minister's politics of innuendo had been irking the leadership since the last AICC session in New Delhi where Singh struck a cautiously discordant note by seeking to distinguish between merit and loyal association with the party while placing a premium on the latter.