As Congress leaders lined up to thank outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a farewell dinner hosted by Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday, the party’s face for the 2014 elections, Rahul Gandhi, became the focal point at the function due to his absence.
Though the mood was sombre at the event – the last one where Singh interacted as PM with Congress leaders – Sonia tried to cheer them up. Rubbishing the exit polls that have predicted Congress’ worst-ever performance, she told them that talks with like-minded parties were on for “future political role”.
But Rahul’s absence did surprise quite a few Congress leaders too. Given the extent of speculation around the Gandhi scion giving the dinner a miss, the Congress finally issued a formal statement to defend his nonattendance.Rahul’s absence did surprise quite a few Congress leaders too. Given the extent of speculation around the Gandhi scion giving the dinner a miss, the Congress finally issued a formal statement to defend his nonattendance. Party leaders have already laid the blame for a possible poor show in the elections at the government’s doors, saying it failed to communicate its achievements to the people.
In a statement to explain Rahul’s no-show, party general secretary Ajay Maken said, “After three months of gruelling campaigning, Rahul Ji is out of town for two days. He will be back tomorrow.”
There was speculation that Rahul had gone abroad.
Maken added that the Congress vice-president had met the PM on Saturday “to personally thank him for his services” and contribution rendered to the nation. Back at Sonia’s 10, Janpath residence, there was a long queue of union ministers and senior Congress leaders keen to take photographs with Singh who demits office on May 17 after 10 years as PM.
Singh, 81, had already made it clear that he would not be in contention for the top post even if the Congress-led UPA came back to power after the Lok Sabha polls.
A memento was presented to the PM with signatures of senior Congress leaders and union ministers. One of his cabinet colelagues MM Pallam Raju read out the dedication inscribed on the memento in praise and honour of the Prime Minister. Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur were also presented with bouquets.
Sonia brought in her personal touch, presenting a couple of sarees to Kaur.
Singh – who was not perceived to be very active during campaigning – enquired about the poll outcome in many states, particularly Assam and Punjab. Congress general secretaries in-charge of different states promptly gave their individual assessments of the election scenario.
Economist-turned-politician Singh had assumed office on May 22, 2009, for his second straight term as Prime Minister and already holds the distinction of being the third-longest serving head of the union government after Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.
A former governor of RBI, Singh, who is often described as the architect of India’s economic reforms, entered politics in 1991 when he was made finance minister by the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao.
The Congress had on Tuesday hailed Singh’s “able stewardship” of the government, underlining how he had led the country through difficult times.
“Singh’s experienced and seasoned stewardship, his personal integrity and ability to lead the country through difficult times is noteworthy and India is proud to have earned so many laurels and respect during the 10 years,” it said. “Our GDP has gone up by three times, power generation capacity has doubled, new airports have come up all over the country but more than that, the benefits of growth have reached every Indian. Dr Singh has led India with vision and grace.”
The party also launched a social media campaign to sign a digital card thanking Singh for leading India through its decade of growth.