|Digvijaya and Rahul
New Delhi, March 28: Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh has left the party agog by publicly stating that the arrangement between Sonia Gandhi, who had the mandate, and Manmohan Singh, who was given the mantle, did not work.
Many leaders feel the blunt statement was avoidable as it seeks to de-legitimise the unique system in place in the UPA for nine years. There is a fear that such statements from senior leaders will give more ammunition to the Opposition which has been taking potshots at Sonia’s “super-PM” status.
But others see in Digvijaya’s statement a gamble aimed at blocking the possibility of anyone stepping into Manmohan’s shoes instead of Rahul Gandhi becoming the Prime Minister if the Congress is in position to form the government in 2014.
Digvijaya, who is mourning the death of his wife, said in an interview two days ago: “Personally, I feel this model hasn’t worked very well. Because, I personally feel there should not be two power centres and I think whoever is the PM must have the authority to function.”
Clarifying that Sonia had never interfered in government functioning, he insisted that these were his personal views. The interview came close on the heels of Rahul’s statement about not being interested in becoming Prime Minister.
Digvijaya sought to explain that Rahul was only insisting that his priorities lay elsewhere and was not desperate to grab the top post.
The confusion triggered by Rahul’s position had worried a section of Sonia loyalists who suspected this perception of a vacancy would trigger a race among a few top leaders who nurture prime ministerial ambitions.
A spate of reports had emerged about “the next Manmohan” in the wake of Rahul’s statement that becoming Prime Minister was not his goal.
Many senior leaders were worried about this perception as they thought the Congress would be greatly disadvantaged in the 2014 general election if the voters believed there was a leadership crisis in the ruling combine.
A senior leader said: “By projecting Rahul as the next Prime Minister, we will achieve several goals. It is not only about a new and young leadership, we also need to reclaim the social democracy plank and distance ourselves from the Manmohan-Montek model.”
Some leaders believe UPA-II has been a disaster and the government’s image is more a liability than an asset. The question figured prominently at the Surajkund conclave and the Jaipur Chintan Shivir where the majority views reflected concerns for the common man and the poor.
These leaders support Digvijaya’s stand, contending that going to the people with Rahul was a much better strategy than showcasing Manmohan or somebody else from the government, such as P. Chidambaram.
One leader who did not appreciate Digvijaya’s blunt observation said: “We can’t deny that the image of the government is an issue. Even Manmohan’s personal image has taken a beating. In 2009, we could go to the people with the achievements of UPA I but the situation is different this time.”
But another senior leader said: “If Digvijaya says this model hasn’t worked, what’s the problem? Strategies are made for the future, not to defend the past.”
A day after Digvijaya’s claim, home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, too, said only Rahul would be Prime Minister.
A section of Congress leaders is wondering if a pattern is emerging. One leader wondered if some leaders were trying to prove their loyalty to Rahul instead of a few others who are known for their prime ministerial ambitions.
The debate is raging in the Congress but few have definite answers.