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Manmohan will have his hands full

May 24, 2004 09:10 IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will have to decide on several political issues as well as make a number of appointments in the forthcoming week.

The appointment of a National Security Adviser brooks no delay. Talks with Pakistan on nuclear confidence-building measures scheduled for the end of May were postponed today because the process of government formation was not complete.

In the beginning of June, border talks with China are scheduled to start, again conducted by the NSA.

However, there seemed to be no clarity in the government on such a crucial appointment. Although former Foreign Secretary JN Dixit was tipped to get the job, former Intelligence Bureau chief MK (Mike) Narayanan was also said to be in Delhi in this connection.

There has been no move on the appointment of a Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, as well as advisers. Although there is no urgency about these appointments, they will have to be in place, ideally, dovetailed with the Budget.

The appointment of a Solicitor General is another decision the government will have to take, now that Soli Sorabjee will be required to resign from his post.

Among the crucial political developments that Singh will have to address are the problems in Jammu and Kashmir, and the party's stance in Uttar Pradesh.

The Congress is currently equivocating on support to the Mulayam Singh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party government. Now that the Samajwadi Party is not part of the government at the Centre, it is under no obligation to work with the Congress.

The question is whether Singh will buckle under Congress pressure and agree to impose President's Rule in Uttar Pradesh.

In Jammu and Kashmir, now that the snowbound passes will open during summer, more incidents like the one today in which 25 Border Security Force soldiers were blown up will occur. The Centre and the state will have to liaise closely to bring normalcy back to the state.

Singh's greatest challenge will be to tailor policy so that the Congress can win the next round of Assembly elections.

Maharashtra, which must go to the polls before October, will represent a crucial test of the Congress' strength. Bihar is also to go the polls later this year and Yadav could face tough going here as well.

Singh's foreign policy agenda will also be formidable. As Prime Minister, he must go to the United Nations General Assembly in August, where he will have to sustain the friendly overtures to Pakistan without letting up on the issue of infiltration.

With all this, the greatest problem is going to be managing the pressures from the Left parties in foreign policy.

When former Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh went to Israel four years ago and announced from Jerusalem that India was under no pressure to continue its friendship with the Arab nations, the Arabs reacted with confusion and anger that as a traditional ally, India had changed tack.

Now, Singh will have to indicate that Indian foreign policy is back to where it was and pursue an even-handed policy. A crucial indicator of how this government will run its foreign policy will be the appointment of an ambassador to the US.

With the likely setting-up of a super steering committee of allies and the Congress to ensure smooth running of the government and less public bickering, Singh's path will be smoothened a little bit.

However, the danger of being misunderstood by 10, Janpath will persist and deepen as Singh begins to feel more comfortable in his job.

BS Political Bureau in New Delhi