The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PM political baptism

Mumbai, Oct. 6: One-time banker Manmohan Singh today chose the financial capital of India to signal that he can be as good a politician, too.

The telltale sign of the transformation did not lie in the fact that he posed for a picture with actor-turned-Congress-convert Nagma. That was just a concession for the flashbulbs in the time of elections.

The real eye-opener came much earlier when the Prime Minister tore into the Opposition and its penchant for astrology, all the while managing to retain his signature smile and gentle demeanour.

'They (the Opposition) have now turned to astrologers and tantriks' to find ways to topple the government, Singh said today on his first visit as Prime Minister to Mumbai, where he spent the 'most memorable part' of his life as RBI governor in the eighties.

'These forces have also not desisted from spreading false rumours about the instability of the government and had gone so far as predicting its fall before my birthday,' he said in his first comments on a whisper campaign by some senior Opposition leaders who derived hope from astrologers' forecast that the government will fall before September 26.

In comments made at a media conference and a party meeting, Singh also addressed a perception within the ruling coalition that he was not forceful enough while defending actions of the government that could be termed controversial.

Mounting a spirited justification of the Centre's decision to scrap the commission that was probing the Tehelka scandal, the Prime Minister said the panel was not able to produce a report in three years and had no justification to exist in a poor country like India.

Denying charges that the government was being vindictive, he added: 'We play the game straight.'

Faced with the must-ask ' Is Sonia Gandhi the Super Prime Minister' ' Singh replied with the elan that comes with practice. 'I am the Prime Minister and there are no dual sources of power.' Sonia, he said, is a 'mighty source of strength'.

Asked to rate himself, the Prime Minister said: 'I am learning and learning fast... I think I am doing well. However, it is for the public at large and the media to decide about my performance.'

Singh also appealed to Maharashtra, which goes to polls on October 13, to keep communal forces at bay. 'We need a government in Maharashtra which is on the same wavelength with Delhi.'

The Prime Minister topped off the trip to Mumbai with a session with industrialists and what was officially described as 'intelligentsia'.

Besides a host of business leaders, Bharat Shah, the diamond merchant and Bollywood producer who was acquitted in an underworld-links case, was also there. It was not known which category of invitees he fell in.

Nagma's participation was limited to the photo-op and a handshake with Singh. Zee chief Subhash Chandra took time off the cricket telecast battle to put in an appearance.

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