The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rush to muffle Sonia chant
- Congmen asked to keep dignity of PM chair

New Delhi, May 13: Manmohan Singh is about to complete two years as Prime Minister without stumbling into any major pitfalls, but is not looking any stronger for it.

Party MP Ajit Jogi was silenced on Thursday after he called upon Sonia Gandhi to take over the country’s reins, but there are fears of a repeat as the buzz in the Congress for a “political” Prime Minister grows.

Monday will be a tough day for the party’s managers as Sonia, who was re-elected with a huge margin ' the immediate provocation for Jogi’s call ' from Rae Bareli, is to take oath as MP and address the general body of the Congress Parliamentary Party.

Late in the night, party MPs were being contacted individually to ensure that all goes well and the dignity of the Prime Minister’s office remains intact. There is a strong possibility that no one other than Sonia will be given a chance to speak, to avoid a “controversial” issue being raised.

Sonia is firmly behind Singh, whom she had chosen as Prime Minister after leading the Congress to a stunning election victory on this day in 2004, and brushed aside Jogi’s request as “wrong”.

But a section of influential Congressmen, including senior cabinet ministers, is closely watching the developments.

The Nehru-Gandhi family should get primacy, this group believes, even if that spawns talk of a “weak Prime Minister.” Singh, they argue, was crowned to implement the Congress’s agenda under Sonia’s stewardship.

“So far, he has done a good job and we hope he will continue to do so. But the spotlight will surely be around the ‘family’,” said a senior minister who did not wish to be quoted.

The charge by some party leaders against Singh that he is “apolitical” is not entirely innocent. The Prime Minister, who got a close view of the games politicians play during his term in Narasimha Rao’s cabinet, is aware that any show of “political acumen” could lead to bigger problems. Ambitious leaders and disgruntled ministers would waste no time in accusing him of one-upmanship.

That Jogi got away lightly would also not be lost on him.

Privately, a section of the Congress is talking about Rahul Gandhi who they think is performing well for “future challenges.” While it is too early to spell out a time frame, Congressmen cannot stop dreaming of a Nehru-Gandhi as Prime Minister. This requires that the spotlight remains firmly on the first family.

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