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Since 1st March, 1999
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- Pat for Sonia, ‘young friends’

New Delhi, May 22: The birthday boy was modest about listing his government’s achievements ' but only till he reached a subject close to his heart.

“Generations to come will marvel at Soniaji’s renunciation of the seat of power, an act which is in the great tradition of sages and saints of this ancient land,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reminded his colleagues and coalition partners assembled to celebrate a year in power.

More than a birthday celebration, the UPA’s anniversary today turned out to be an exercise in mutual admiration.

Setting the tone for the occasion, Sonia expressed satisfaction over Singh’s performance and said: “I congratulate the Prime Minister for providing dignified and effective leadership to the government and enhancing India’s prestige abroad.”

The Left parties may have stayed away but both Sonia and Singh made it a point to highlight their role. The Prime Minister named Harkishen Singh Surjeet, Jyoti Basu, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and “young friends” Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury, acknowledging their contribution in making the UPA a success.

As soon as speeches were over, coalition leaders, ministers and senior Congress leaders jostled to get close to Sonia to compliment her.

Those who failed to make it turned to shake hands with Singh. Laloo Prasad Yadav could barely hide his grin while Ram Vilas Paswan appeared nervous and restless throughout the 52-minute meeting. His flock under threat, Paswan kept looking at his watch.

The UPA constituents then settled down for dinner where Bihar was the subject of discussion on almost all tables. A minister from Madhya Pradesh was heard saying that Paswan had dragged it too far and may end up paying a price.

Sonia made a case for greater cooperation and cohesiveness among the UPA partners. She said that while the alliance’s first year in office demonstrated that political parties could work together in nation-building without losing their respective identities, there was a need for broad guidelines that will nurture mutual trust. Sonia said this was her personal observation.

She took a dig at the BJP-led combine and said: “We have to contend with an Opposition which has yet to accept that the people of our country rejected it convincingly in the last Lok Sabha elections.”

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