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Why Dr Singh may be throwing in the towel

Last updated on: October 08, 2013 13:30 IST

Why Dr Singh may be throwing in the towel

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi

With just one act of disowning the ordinance on convicted lawmakers, Rahul Gandhi has exposed the fault-lines in the Congress party. Sheela Bhatt reports.

There is no doubt that a lot is brewing within the Congress party and between the government and the party.

With reports now emerging that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has asked Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi to take an interest in providing leadership suggests that the balance of power between Dr Singh and his party has shifted, finally.

According to a report in The Economic Times, when Rahul Gandhi met Dr Singh on the morning of October 2, not only did the prime minister say Rahul should be more active, but he also pointed out that he should lead the next government -- meaning that Dr Singh's services are not available to the party, post the next general election.

"Dr Singh is throwing in the towel," feels says Praful Bidwai, the well-known political commentator and Rediff.com columnist.

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Image: The balance of power between Dr Manmohan Singh and the Congress has shifted towards Rahul Gandhi.
Photographs: B Mathur/Reuters

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Rediff.com confirmed the report from independent sources that Dr Singh has indeed expressed a view that he does not want to lead UPA III if it comes back to power.

What has changed so much from March 2013 to October 2013?

On board Air India One, while returning from the BRICS summit in South Africa in March, Rediff.com had asked Dr Singh, "Would you accept a request to stand for a third term as the Congress party's prime ministerial candidate if Congress President Sonia Gandhi and his party requested you to do so?"

The prime minister gave enough indication that he is NOT unwilling. "These are hypothetical questions," he told this correspondent. "We will cross that bridge when we come there."

He did not express reluctance. In six months, Dr Singh has changed his mind.

After serving the nation for two terms Prime Minister Singh is not interested in a third term. What triggered his sudden disenchantment with the seat of power? Even if the possibility of the UPA retaining power for a third consecutive term seems doubtful.

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Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Photographs: Yuya Shino/Reuters

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'Rahul's remark created a ripple effect on PM-Sonia relations'

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So what has changed?

One theory is that two centres of power can work together if both leaders speak directly to each other as Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Dr Singh have done these nine years; but you can't have a triangle managing the enormous responsibility of running a government.

The prime minister's latest move says a lot about the mystical and unique relationship between the Congress president and Dr Singh that created dual centres of power in New Delhi.

The arrangement, dubbed extra-constitutional and unhealthy for democracy by its critics, ran India without interruption or breaking down since June 2004.

Rahul Gandhi's September 27 remarks that the ordinance to help convicted lawmakers is 'nonsense' and should be torn up has created ripple effects in the Congress party and affected the prime minister-Sonia Gandhi relationship as well.

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Image: Congress President Sonia Gandhi with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.


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'Congress cadres will ask for a leader to take on the Modi challenge'

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The most serious outcome of Dr Singh's unwillingness to lead the UPA if it wins a third term means he has indirectly told Rahul Gandhi to get ready to challenge Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate.

While releasing the Congress manifesto for the 2009 general election, Sonia Gandhi had declared Dr Singh as the party's prime ministerial candidate. Since Dr Singh is now unwilling to front the party's election campaign, Rahul will have to accept the challenge of confronting Modi.

Else, the Congress vice-president will need to convince his party that he is not running away from that responsibility.

"Rahul Gandhi is unwilling," says Bidwai. "He has not made up his mind. His kind of dynasty needs security. Unless the Congress has won the election he would not like to lead."

Congress cadres will not miss Dr Singh who seems to have lost the middle class vote, but they would certainly not like the space against Modi to remain blank.

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Image: Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate.
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters

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'Rahul has exposed the fault-lines in the Congress'

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"Immature colleagues of Rahul Gandhi may applaud his Rambo act," a senior Union minister told Rediff.com, "but why did Sonia Gandhi agree to the ordinance in the first place?"

"The issue is not only between Dr Singh and Rahul Gandhi or between the government and Rahul Gandhi," a senior Congress leader says wryly. "The difference of opinion over the ordinance is between Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi."

When this question was posed to a Union minister, he said, "I am absolutely certain that the ordinance was a right step. Sonia Gandhi is a mature leader. She knows what she is doing."

"First, how can you deny anybody -- a common man or a member of Parliament -- the opportunity to go in appeal if and when convicted and be heard before he loses his current status?" the minister asked.

"The ordinance, after the Supreme Court's judgment that ordered immediate disqualification of convicted MPs was helping MPs get 90 days time as a normal person gets without loss of status on the day of conviction," he added.

"Second, how can any law target only politicians? To get bail, to get legal remedies, everyone should be equal before the law. Any Indian's status continues till he goes in appeal, but only MPs are disqualified after the Supreme Court judgment," the minister pointed out.

"Third, how can the Supreme Court ink a law?" the minister asked. "It is the duty of Parliament to make laws. In view of these arguments, our Cabinet agreed on the ordinance route. I have no regrets in agreeing to it. I am against the populist anti-ordinance stand."

The Congress Core Group -- an informal political formation that wields huge power -- approve the Cabinet decision to adopt the ordinance.

The core group is headed by Sonia Gandhi. Dr Singh and other important ministers are its members. Finance Minister P Chidambaram narrated the afore-mentioned arguments to the core group when it considered the ordinance.

When some sections of the middle class reacted adversely to the ordinance, the Bharatiya Janata Party quickly calibrated its stance and said it was now against the move.

When President Pranab Mukherjee asked more than the normal questions of the ordinance, Rahul Gandhi went with the wind. He refused to stand by his mother and Dr Singh.

A source in the Congress party told Rediff.com other party leaders are aware of the prime minister's sentiments.

It suggests that Dr Singh has come to a dead-end of the vulnerable equation he shared with the party and its president that worked wonders for both of them for over nine years.

Each time a crisis confronted him, many observers thought Dr Singh would resign, but it never happened. Some of his Cabinet colleagues branded him a 'survivor,' which in Congress parlance is not always a positive term.

Whether it was the nuclear deal with the United States or the issue of Foreign Direct Investment in retail, Dr Singh survived the roughest storms.

Another achievement to his and Sonia Gandhi's credit was that not many details of their interactions or how the power balance was maintained were leaked to the media. Sonia Gandhi and Dr Singh were smart, mature and crafty not to share anything about their encounters, agreements or disagreements.

Just one act by Rahul Gandhi has exposed the fault-lines in the Congress party.


Image: Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi
Photographs: Reuters

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