New Delhi, May 19: A stunning election followed by a dramatic abdication softlanded in the choice of a mild-mannered economist to lead India this evening as a smiling Sonia Gandhi declared in front of Rashtrapati Bhavan: “The nation is safe in the hands of Dr Manmohan Singh.”
The election of 2004 passed into the pages of history and became part of legend — Sonia appeared happy to have left it behind — once President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam handed Singh a letter inviting him to form the next government.
“I have pleasure to appoint you as Prime Minister and request you to advise me as to name the others to be appointed as members of the council of ministers. You will kindly indicate to me the date and time of the swearing-in ceremony to be held in Rashtrapati Bhavan at your convenience,” the letter said. Sources said Singh could be sworn in on Saturday.
Bearing the invitation, Singh and Sonia emerged into the Delhi evening lit up for TV cameras and, not forgetting manners in this hour of glory, the new Prime Minister asked the Congress president to speak. “No, no,” she said vigorously, a soft smile hanging on her lips.
“You look relaxed after a long time,” someone from the media commented. Sonia, who will be chairperson of the Congress parliamentary party, acknowledged the change in her state of mind. “I have been under tremendous pressure…. But now that everything is over, I am very happy,” she said.
A last-minute effort was made even today to force her to change her mind when members of the Congress Working Committee and other office-bearers sent their resignations. It was destined to fail.
“I understand your disappointment. But I appeal to you to understand the depth of my sentiment when I say that I cannot reverse my decision,” Sonia told them.
The Congress parliamentary party then chose the 71-year-old Singh to head the government of the United Progressive Alliance, as the coalition has been named. In a sort of acceptance speech, he said: “The rare example of sacrifice set by Mrs Gandhi was in keeping with the highest standards of idealism that was generated during the freedom struggle.”
“If I say thank you, madam, it will never be enough ....”
The Congress made two amendments to its constitution to enable Singh to head the government while unanimously electing Sonia as chairperson of the parliamentary party. She would, of course, continue to be the Congress president.
As confirmation came in the afternoon that Singh would head the government, the stock market clicked its heels and did a smart salute to the person it loves to call the father of economic reforms. The Bombay Stock Exchange sensitive index was up today by 129 points at 5006, making up almost the entire loss in Monday’s mayhem in two days.
Singh made soothing noises, saying his government recognises the importance of a healthy capital market and there is no reason to panic. He reaffirmed his party’s commitment to pursuing “economic reforms with a human face” and promised to “give the world and our people a model of reforms”.
He said the new government would follow responsible macro-economic policies, with a focus on agriculture and employment.
“I will work under the guidance and (with the) support of Sonia Gandhi,” Singh said.
“I know my limitations.”
This evening, he was given SPG cover.
In the morning, Sonia went about the task of wrapping up the process of enlisting support for Singh’s candidature in a business-like manner by meeting allied party leaders and persuading the DMK to join the government. Other partners are expected to be Laloo Prasad Yadav’s RJD, the PMK, Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party and the JMM.
Later, a delegation of Congress leaders, including Singh, urged her again to reconsider her decision. But before the CPP meeting, she issued a statement closing the chapter.