When the United Progressive Alliance had completed four years of its second term in power, Congress President Sonia Gandhi had publicly said at a dinner hosted for coalition partners that her party stood by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh: “We respect him and stand by him.” That was in May 2013.
On August 15, after the customary flag hoisting at the Congress headquarters (24, Akbar Road), Gandhi was asked whether Singh would hoist the flag from Red Fort next year as well.
She stopped, heard the question but moved on, without answering it.
On Friday, at the inauguration of the National Media Centre, she was again asked pointed questions on the likely outcome of the general elections. But this time, her reply was unambiguous. Asked about the possibility of UPA returning to power after next year’s Lok Sabha polls, she said: “Yes, of course, 100 per cent... Certainly! We have given so many rights: Right to information Bill, right to education Bill…” she said.
Soon after, when asked if “Singh will be the face of the Congress party in the coming general elections”, Gandhi -- again -- moved on, without answering.
She categorically said the general elections would not be advanced.
“Our aim is to go till the very end,” she replied to repeated questions on the timing for general elections.
Putting her answers of various questions in perspective might suggest she doesn’t see the elections being advanced; but also that the Congress is still not sure who its prime ministerial candidate would be.
It was the party’s general secretary Digvijaya Singh who set the cat among the pigeons by saying in an interview to a TV channel earlier this year that the dual power centre model -- different people as party chief and prime minister -- had not really worked. His suggestion was that Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi should be both -- or, when it was time to name UPA’s PM candidate, it should be Rahul taking the call, helped by Sonia as the party’s head.
This argument, within days, had been rubbished by Congress General-Secretary Janardan Dwivedi, who had said: “The relationship which has existed between Sonia Gandhi as the party president and Manmohan Singh as the prime minister is something that’s not usually seen; it is unique. I think, for any democracy, this is an ideal model, even for the future.”
The chatter about another term for the present prime minister, should the Congress succeed in getting the numbers in 2014, had started earlier this year when Manmohan Singh, when asked if he would accept another term as PM if Sonia offered him the post again after 2014, replied: “These are hypothetical questions. We will cross that bridge when we reach there.”
On whether he would continue to contribute to public life and whether he has the drive and energy to do that after crossing the age of 80, Singh clearly indicated he was ready for it: “I have tried my very best to serve this country with all sincerity and dedication. Whether I have succeeded or not is for the public to judge.”
So, if the Bharatiya Janata Party is reluctant to name a PM candidate, the Congress is not leaping to name one, either.