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UPA@3: Perfect evening, old tale
Sheela Bhatt at 7, Race Course Road | May 23, 2007 01:24 IST
Last Updated: May 23, 2007 13:42 IST
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who was at 7, Race Course Road to celebrate the third anniversary of the United Progressive Alliance government, did not utter a word.
The note stuck by the inquisitive journalist apart, the evening was perfect at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's home.
For a change, even the summer chose to be benign. A mild breeze was blowing across the lawns. Birds kept chirping, lingering on, reluctant to roost though dusk was falling.
The occasion was the United Progressive Alliance government's birthday party. The infant that many considered too fragile to survive at its birth three years ago has reached its mid-life.
Both Dr Singh and Sonia Gandhi read out from written speeches claiming achievements. But neither gave away hint of any big idea or any out-of-box thinking that the people legitimately expect to hear by way of the government's intentions and programmes in the remaining two years in power.
The prime minister repeated for the third successive year, "I have been fortunate in having the unstinted support and cooperation of respected Soniaji. She is a source of great inspiration for us all, particularly for all poor people across the length and breadth of our country."
The prime minister wanted us to believe that by the time his government's term ran out in another two years, he would have delivered more than what he had promised.
He harped on inclusive growth and all that his government was doing in the rural and agriculture sectors.
Sonia Gandhi read out from a written speech in Hindi, "Today, we have achieved a milestone. The prime minister is working with his heart and dedication."
She did not forget to highlight that the "flame of secularism, which is intact since centuries has lightened up again in the last three years."
She indirectly complimented Dr Singh by mentioning the government has had significant success in keeping prices under control.
A glossy booklet was released on the occasion, highlighting the UPA government's achievements. A rare scene told us why this government is stable.
At the high table was Sonia Gandhi in an off-white sari, light make up, lightly blown hair and pearl ear rings -- looking as elegant and self-conscious as ever. Alongside her sat Communist Party of India-Marxist General Secretary Prakash Karat, subdued but evidently enjoying the moment, and self-confident CPI-M Politburo member Sitaram Yechury.
Yechury, the closest among Left leaders to the Congress leadership, was thoughtfully seated next to Dr Singh, who was seated right opposite Sonia at the round table. As always, the prime minister remained a good listener, while Yechury had no difficulty to do all the talking.
Dr Singh was flanked by Railways Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, the UPA's most loyal ally and Sonia Gandhi's most ardent supporter. Curiously, the only other invitee to the high table was Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister Ram Vilas Paswan.
Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar was conspicuous by his absence. Pawar indeed left the party early, without having dinner, pleading that he was travelling.
The most talked about personality in the entire evening was inevitably Uttar Pardesh Chief Minister Mayawati. Though invited to the gathering, she did not attend the dinner. Nor did she send any representative from Lucknow.
The ruling elite of India, at the high table, spoke softly and did not laugh much.
Now here is the irony. While Sonia ate with her hands, Lalu chose to eat with fork and spoon.
The icing on the cake was undoubtedly Karat's presence. It spread a message that this government is stable and can well aspire to complete its 5-year term in office.
If Karat and Sonia remain as coy as they were at the high table, the UPA government has nothing to worry about. The two CPI-M Politburo members looked every bit pleased with their larger-than-life role in the calculus of power in today's India.
Their incessant rhetoric and radical politics seemed hopelessly out of place. They seem to have understood that in Delhi, nothing succeeds like power.
All the same, the surreal scene at the high table on Tuesday evening was too obvious. The elite at the high table put together could not come up to Mayawati's political waist in the recent UP assembly election. To be sure, Mayawati has stunned the powerbrokers and power grabbers.
Janardhan Dwivedi, Sonia's speechwriter, said, "Even in ancient times Brahmins have been known to be assimilating with other sections of society. There is no surprise that Brahmins have supported Dalits."
But Ajit Singh, the Jat leader from UP, who sat quietly in a corner with scarcely anyone paying attention, remarked, "Yes, Mayawati has surprised me. But, more than Mayawati, it is surprising that the Bharatiya Janata Party did not win as expected. Mayawati looks remarkable also because of the BJP's stunning failure despite the party making too many noises."
The best scene of the party was certainly enacted between Dr Singh and Communist Party of India General Secretary A B Bardhan.
Bardhan is wellknown for his trenchant public criticism of the Congress and the UPA government's economic reforms and foreign policy. But, lo and behold, what we witnessed today, away from the glare of the television cameras, was something entirely different.
At the fag end of the party, Dr Singh spotted Bardhan in the large gathering. With a namaste and his humble voice, Dr Singh said, "Mr Bardhan, I was looking for you."
Unable to control his excitement to see that the prime minister was coming to greet him, Bardhan said, "Sir, I was right behind you all this while, but the problem is that you do not have a habit of keeping an eye on your back side."
The prime minister gave a shy smile and simply said, "No...no..."
No sooner were the greetings exchanged, the crusader in Bardhan raised his demand concerning Public Sector Units. He told Dr Singh that the retirement age of the public sector employees should be raised to 60.
Dr Singh smiled shyly with an added twinkle in his eye.
As the party ended, and the leaders started leaving, we asked Karat, "Can we say safely that today's party suggests that all is well within the UPA?"
Karat, who stubbornly refuses to be counted among India's power elite, corrected us. "No, no. The two functions were different. I was not part of the booklet release function highlighting the UPA's achievements. These achievements are theirs. We have nothing to do with it. I came only for the dinner."
Was not the dinner by way of celebrating the government's achievements as propagated in the booklet?"This government," Karat added pointedly, "will survive as long as we support it."