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Who dares loses

It is no surprise then that the BJP has left no stone unturned in trying to tarnish Manmohan Singh?s image, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: May 15, 2006 01:25 IST

Sonia Gandhi’s public admonition of former Chhattisgarh CM Ajit Jogi for attempting to create a controversy regarding her unflinching support for the Prime Minister seeks to send a strong signal to a section of Congressmen trying to undermine Manmohan Singh’s status. Jogi’s claim that he had obtained signatures of 25 MPs for a petition requesting Sonia Gandhi to hand over the party responsibilities to Rahul Gandhi and take over the prime ministership also appears spurious.

By this exercise, Jogi showed scant respect for Sonia’s decision to renounce the position that was offered to her in 2004. He also failed to reveal the names of the MPs who had signed his petition. It seems very doubtful the man who’d lost his state to the BJP in the last elections has the support of 25 MPs. And if he has, then is he making a case for himself to be inducted in the Union council of ministers?

If Sonia was indeed interested in taking up any position, she is tall enough to get the overwhelming support of MPs cutting across party lines, as had happened in 2004. But for her, the chapter had closed then. By raking up the issue, Jogi was trying to equally embarrass her as well as the man who was her choice for PM.

Jogi is a politician and would have known that this demand would not go down well with Sonia. But he chose to raise it in order to weaken the PM, who continues to enjoy excellent relations with Sonia and is in total command. But Jogi’s action unnecessarily gave a talking point to opposition parties, who have been trying to draw a wedge between the two leaders by sometimes declaring Singh to be the weakest PM and sometimes as a puppet controlled by Sonia.

It is understandable that the BJP was ungracious about its defeat in 2004. But two years after being ousted from power, it has yet to come to terms with it. Thus, for that party to attack the PM and the Congress president is part of its regular political activity. But when Congressmen show their own PM in poor light, a public snub is the least that Sonia could have done. Jogi should consider himself fortunate that he was not thrown out of the party for the implications of his out-of-turn demand and in future, must curb his desire to gain cheap publicity.

He is not the only one who has tried to take a pot shot at Manmohan Singh. Within the ruling coalition, some ministers have spoken out of turn and on issues on which the party or the government had yet to take a considered view. Some of the subjects have been of divisive nature and, at times, have led to a situation where one minister ended up differing with his colleague. But since there is always a cushion for allowing things to pass while running a coalition, the contentious issues have been allowed to fade away.

But since the PM is from the Congress and is Sonia’s choice, all Congressmen should show utmost restraint in making his position uncomfortable. Manmohan Singh is not only an asset for the party but also for the country. He is also a middle-class icon, who actually managed to wean away these votes from the BJP. The middle-classes were the strongest supporters of the BJP at one time and now support the PM with the same zeal.

It is no surprise then that the BJP has left no stone unturned in trying to tarnish Manmohan Singh’s image. Its leaders know that while he holds his honest and clean image, there is little anyone can do to him. Therefore, all kinds of stories about his differences with the Congress president. But he has managed to survive all this because he and Sonia share a mutual respect for each other and view all the canards with a mature mind. This closeness between the two top leaders also makes many ambitious leaders within the UPA in general, and the Congress in particular, envious.

Many of them feel that while Manmohan Singh occupies the PM’s office, they stand no chance. Therefore, by raking up divisive issues or demands, with a coating of sycophancy to hide the real motives, these leaders keep on making some attempt or the other to pull Manmohan Singh down. They also know that Manmohan Singh was Sonia’s choice even in 1998, after the Vajpayee government was defeated on the floor of the House by one vote. It was because of this preference that some leaders worked secretly to get him defeated from the South Delhi Lok Sabha constituency in 1999. If they did not succeed to eliminate him politically despite his defeat it is because he continued to enjoy the trust of the Congress president.

The Prime Minister will be completing two years in office on May 22 and a fresh attack on him from various quarters could also be aimed at overshadowing his real achievements. Politically, the Prime Minister has managed to help the Congress reach across to sections which had opposed it in the past. The middle-class is not the only one. His stand on justice for the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and his public apology for the tragic events during the period of militancy in Punjab touched a chord even with the Sikhs who had distanced themselves from the Congress.

There are numerous other examples. His opponents should realise that it is not easy to target him and there has been no occasion to remotely suggest that he and the Congress president have any differences that could make his position vulnerable. The equation is as strong as it always was and Sonia’s resolve not to accept prime ministership remains unchanged. Between us.

First Published: May 15, 2006 01:25 IST