New Delhi, Nov. 15: Former Prime Minister V.P. Singh made history today by stepping into the Congress headquarters at 24, Akbar Road here 16 years after he parted ways with the party.
The occasion for his “homecoming” of sorts was an iftar hosted by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
Singh may no longer be politically active, but his presence at the party headquarters reflected how much national polity has transformed since the time he formed the Jan Morcha after getting disillusioned with the Congress.
Till recently, he has been a hate figure for every Congress leader, who held him personally responsible for making things tough for Rajiv Gandhi’s government and sparking the party’s decline. But the Jan Morcha as an organisation is long dead and Singh, who rode a Janata Dal-led coalition to power in 1989, has buried the spirit of the morcha.
Clearly, the former Prime Minister could not have been present at Akbar Road uninvited. Sonia was magnanimous to invite her husband’s tormentor to her iftar. “All our friends were invited,” she said.
At the iftar, the Congress chief spent some time exchanging pleasantries with Singh. Present by his side was another former Prime Minister, Inder Kumar Gujral. Even Congress leaders like Arjun Singh, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Natwar Singh, who have harshly attacked Singh in the past, interacted with the former Prime Minister today.
Helping matters along was Singh’s speaking the language of reconciliation a week ago. At a specially convened media conference, he had declared support for the Congress and rubbished talk of Sonia’s foreign origin. The iftar invitation was probably the Congress chief’s way of thanking him.
The gesture might help the party in its bid to win back its upper caste vote base in Uttar Pradesh, which it lost after Singh rebelled against Rajiv in 1987.
Sonia may be quite happy with the response to her iftar politics, but would have been happier still if former Prime Ministers Chandra Shekhar and H.D. Deve Gowda, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and BSP president Mayavati had also made it to the function.
Mulayam Singh did send his trusted lieutenant Amar Singh; Mayavati deputed BSP parliamentary party leader Rashid Alvi.
Rashtriya Janata Dal parliamentary party leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Lok Janshakti Party’s Ram Vilas Paswan and Muslim League leader E. Ahmed were present at the party. No Left leader made it to the Congress headquarters.
Top leaders from the National Conference, which has signalled to Sonia that it wishes to replace the ruling People’s Democratic Party in Kashmir as the Congress’ ally, were also present. Former chief minister Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah attended the iftar.
Many foreign envoys were present, most notably the Pakistan high commissioner Aziz Ahmed Khan.