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View: Dr Singh WON'T resign

Last updated on: September 30, 2013 11:58 IST

Rahul's rage was not directed against the prime minister, but at his mother's advisors who continue to thwart the Baba Army, feels Kamaraj Gopalan.

Dr Manmohan Singh, flanked by Rahul Gandhi and Sonia GandhiFor everyone who expects a political thunderstorm in the Congress party this week, a prediction: Dr Manmohan Singh will NOT not drive down to Rashtrapati Bhavan a few hours after he returns from New York and submit his resignation as prime minister.

The Congress president and her son will call on Dr Singh and strongly reiterate their belief in his leadership and apologise for the hurt caused by the party vice-president's tantrum at the Delhi Press Club on Friday.

The division of authority in the United Progressive Alliance has been demarcated from the start in June 2004: Dr Singh runs the government; Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president and UPA chairperson, manages the byzantine politics involved in operating the ruling alliance.

The ordinance that provoked Rahul Gandhi to take a rare stand was not conceived by Dr Singh; it was crafted by Sonia Gandhi's political advisors as insurance after the next general election when the Congress party will certainly need fresh allies if it has any hope of staying in power.

Dr Singh, as it is infuriatingly clear to his admirers and critics, rarely takes a keen interest in politics. He leaves the complexities of dealing with allies and likely supporters to Sonia Gandhi and her team who have many years of understanding the eddy currents of Indian politics.

For most of UPA-2, Pranab Mukherjee -- with whom Dr Singh apparently still has the kind of relationship moulded in the finance ministry's kiln of the early 1980s when the former was minister and the latter a mere satrap -- ran the political show along with Ahmed Patel, Sonia Gandhi's political secretary, with the prime minister looking on mostly as a disinterested observer.

Rahul Gandhi knows that well, and Friday's display of rage -- whether manufactured or genuine -- was not directed at the prime minister for he is well aware that Dr Singh and his senior ministers merely executed what Patel and like his cohorts mandated in the Congress party's future interest, but at his mother’s team who he feels constantly thwart what he and his team desire for the party.

The real political story then is not Narendra Modi's daily monotonous tirade against the Congress and the Nehru family, or Rahul Gandhi's supposed fusillade against the prime minister, but the war of nerves within India's oldest party as it prepares for an election where it could either swerve sharply away from the road to perdition and stage an improbable recovery or, more likely, be decimated for a half-generation.

As Sonia Gandhi prepares to retire from public life -- it is unlikely that General V K Singh will encounter her as a rival in Rae Bareli in the spring of 2014 -- her team of political advisors are engaged in many skirmishes for political survival with her son.

The Old Guard has little concealed disdain for the baba-log who surround Gandhi; men and women, like him, of inherited privilege, and unlike him, armed with degrees from elite Western universities.

The old timers believe the baba-log are out of their depth in the treacherous currents of Indian politics, where the dominant wind is more Mughalean than Obamatic.

No one is winning this battle yet. As long as Sonia Gandhi is around, it is unlikely that Rahul and his Baba Army will gain the upper hand; the mother knows only too well that the likes of Ahmed Patel have long relationships and deep understandings that her party needs more than ever.

So what could happen this week?

On Thursday, the Cabinet will meet, and withdraw the ordinance to protect politicians with convictions. They will be some talk of bringing in a bill instead during the winter session of Parliament, but that will die down soon enough.

With Lalu Yadav convicted in the fodder scam on Monday -- supposedly, the predictive reason for the ordinance -- and despite his unwavering loyalty to Sonia Gandhi, the Congress will quickly move ahead and try to induct Nitish Kumar as one of its allies for the coming war in the spring.

And Dr Singh?

Much as some of his younger ministerial Congress colleagues would like him to retire and want the party to go to the polls with a new leader, the odds are that Sonia Gandhi will let him stay on. Unless, of course, the gentle Sardar decides to say Sayonara after he returns from Beijing in November.

Image: Dr Manmohan Singh, flanked by Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. Photograph: Reuters

Kamaraj Gopalan