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Manmohan Singh's house wears a deserted look

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi | May 20, 2004 02:50 IST

It is 9.30pm, more than two hours after it became clear that Congress leader Manmohan Singh will be the country's next prime minister.

At 19, Safadarjung Road -- Singh's official residence in New Delhi -- there are no sweets, no jubilations and no traffic jams.

Less than 20 Congress workers are around. Most of the action is in front of 10, Janpath, the residence of Gandhi, who created a flutter by announcing that she did not want to be PM.

At the gates of Manmohan Singh's bungalow, the only movement is of people in 'safari suits', probably intelligence sleuths. Security guards encircle his house.

The main gates are closed and TV crews are pushed to one side.

Tirlochan Singh, a Delhi-based Sikh and a member of the All India Congress Committee, gets down from his car to have a look. "Dr Singh and I belong to Puthowar area of Punjab. The area lies near the banks of Jhelum river, now in Pakistan," he says.

Manmohan Singh's father, Gurmukh Singh, was an arhati, he says. He used to sell food grains and other commodities at a mandi in Peshawar.

"Doctorsaab has studied in Urdu medium, Khalsa college, Peshawar," he says.

Ask why there are no celebrations and he explains that since Manmohan Singh is a "political lightweight in the Congress, one won't find here the usual shor-gul".

Kanwarjeet, a Sikh living near Pusa Road, Delhi, says that "people are not here because we only know our mai-baap ka ghar," 10, Janpath.

"Delhi ke Congression ko toh unka ghar ka pata hi nahin (Congress workers in Delhi don't know where he stays)," he says.

A while later, he calls up some people to get musicians and buses to Safadarjung Road.

Another Congressman, who comes after attending a rally at 10, Janpath, says, "Congress workers are upset because they are worried about the next elections. What will be her speech then? She can't say vote for Dr Singh because he has done a good job."

She can garner votes for herself, but not for anyone else, he claims.

He regrets that Gandhi does not understand the importance ofá "kursi" in politics.

About Singh's image, he says, "In the ocean of corruption, suddenly we have found a clean island."

"He is a straightforward man and can't be called typical politician. But he is not na´ve too, because otherwise he would not have won the trust of Mrs Gandhi, overtaking other Congress veterans."

He is an academician selected on merit, but he will get his political strength exclusively from Gandhi, he says before leaving the venue.

Kanwaljeet says Manmohan Singh is too sophisticated to be known only as a Sikh.

In the days to come, it will be clear that though Manmohan Singh will become PM, the real power will be at 10, Janpath, the address everyone knows.

And Congress workers understand this. For them he is a politician who has never won an election, but is going to PM because he was not, and will not be powerful.

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