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PM for ‘new beginning’

- Govt rubbishes speculation, Congress stays silent
Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, Dec. 31: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said in his greetings to the nation that the new year provided “an opportunity to reassess ourselves, taking corrective action and setting new goals”.

“It is a time of hope, a time to make a new beginning with resolve and confidence to achieve these goals,” he said.

Several Congress leaders noted that the Prime Minister, who would in the past refer to “the unfinished task”, had spoken of “a new beginning” — a sentiment that reflects the undercurrents in the party.

The message came a few hours after the government angrily dismissed speculation about the Prime Minister’s possible resignation and the party kept silent.

Information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari described as “absurd and baseless” reports suggesting the possibility of Rahul becoming Prime Minister on January 3.

The Telegraph had reported on Tuesday that the Prime Minister on his own was weighing the pros and cons of stepping down before the Lok Sabha elections to facilitate Rahul Gandhi’s formal anointment at the top. The report, which underscored that the final decision had not been taken, had also listed the divergent opinions within the Congress.

Tewari said Rahul was the future leader of the Congress and that Sonia Gandhi had herself said the prime ministerial candidate would be declared at an “opportune time”.

Unlike Tewari, seen as a government spokesperson, party spokespersons chose not to speak on the reports.

No senior Congress leader appeared before the media at anytime during the day to either deny or confirm the buzz. Leaders who tweet daily too were silent.

Instead, party communications chief Ajay Maken tweeted several times accusing the BJP of falsely maligning Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh as a pre-emptive strike against any furore over the possible return of B.S. Yeddyurappa.

Ordinarily, the Congress would be expected to come out strongly against any talk of the Prime Minister contemplating retirement. But the silence suggested that the party is not averse to a handover, although there is no indication yet that Sonia wants such a change at the fag end of UPA-II.

Several party leaders have entreated Sonia in the past month to either declare Rahul the prime ministerial candidate or take the plunge by appointing him to the post straightaway. But Sonia has not shown any inclination for such drastic action.

Sources say she is still not ready to do anything that can trigger speculation about a rift between her and Singh, and so the process of transition is bound to be consensual.

It is in this context that most senior party leaders expect Singh to indicate sooner rather than later that he is not interested in a third term.

Many Congress leaders said in private that Singh himself was not keen on seeking a third term. They feel the party would stand no chance if Rahul didn’t lead it into the election with either a clear or a subtle message about his candidature for the top job.

In 2009, Singh was declared the party’s prime ministerial candidate two months before the general election but hardly anyone in the Congress expects a repeat in 2014.

The New Year, which Singh described as an occasion to set new goals, may bring clarity within the first few days, probably by 11am on January 3 when he addresses a media conference.

Singh’s New Year message comes at a time a reassessment, corrective action and the setting of new goals is uppermost in the minds of most leaders in his party in the context of next year’s general election.

The near-universal “reassessment” is that the Congress faces an uphill task but there is no clarity on “corrective action” even though the “goal” is obvious: to retain power.

What is creating a churning in the Congress is the dominant view that Rahul should be given the reins of the party and even projected as the candidate for Prime Minister.

“The New Year is a time for each one of us to reflect upon the year gone by, the successes and achievements as well as the lapses and shortcomings,” Singh said.