According to usually well informed sections of the political grapevine Congress President Mrs. Sonia Gandhi is deeply worried over the decline in her party’s popularity on the eve of a general election. Drastic measures are being contemplated to reverse the trend. The favourite option that currently tops the agenda is to replace Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh after the assembly poll results are out. The projected date of change is early January. That would give a clear four months for the party to recoup its losses before the 2014 polls.
However there is a snag.
The usually compliant PM is not obliging. The worm has turned. According to sources the PM who has been vilified for acting as Mrs. Gandhi’s dummy for the past many years now considers the prospect of becoming the fall guy for decisions not taken by him to be unacceptable. The PM according to these sources has indicated that he is determined to complete his term but would be willing to be replaced as his party’s prime ministerial candidate for the next general election which he may not contest.
Initially this writer dismissed such speculation as being too fanciful. However two recent events in quick succession created a rethink. First, an election rally of the PM in west Delhi for November 30 announced earlier was abruptly canceled on the same day that Mr. Narendra Modi was to address three public meetings in Delhi. The excuses trotted out for the cancellation were lame. “The prime minister has a very tight schedule. He may not get time to address any rallies here in Delhi ,” Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit told reporters. Congress general secretary Mr. Kuljit Singh Nagra said that the Japanese Emperor and Empress were reaching Delhi on the same day. “The prime minister will be busy with the guests,” he said. These explanations did not convince anyone. The snub to the PM conveying that he was an electoral liability was scarcely veiled.
The other event was even more intriguing. BJP leader Mr. Subramaniam Swamy addressing a press conference last Wednesday released a letter written in 2004 by the PM addressed to Mrs. Sonia Gandhi assuring her that the government would carefully examine cases against Tehelka Editor Tarun Tejpal related to the sting operations against Bangaru Laxman and George Fernandes. The letter stated: “I have received your letter of June 18, 2004 enclosing a representation from Tarun Tejpal, editor in chief of Tehelka regarding investigations pending against them. I am asking the concerned ministries to examine the cases and review their status and proposed course of action.” In the current context in which Mr. Tejpal is mired in an unsavoury controversy highlighted across the nation, the disclosure indicating Mrs. Gandhi’s intervention for Mr. Tejpal could not be more damaging.
The obvious question is of course whether Mr. Swamy’s intervention is intended to aid the beleaguered PM. In the past Mr. Swamy had scarcely concealed his access to the PMO and his open defence of the PM in the 2G and other scams even while he berated corruption by UPA cabinet ministers. Mr. Swamy’s staunch opposition to Mrs. Gandhi is well known. The general impression was that he found it tactically expedient to support the PM against Mrs. Gandhi. If speculation about a silent rift between Mrs. Gandhi and the PM is correct, would it not suit both the PM and Mr. Swamy to release the letter linking Mrs. Gandhi to Tarun Tejpal? Can it be therefore that the letter was highlighted by Mr. Swamy with the blessing of the PM? Such an explanation for the critically timed disclosure does not seem farfetched.
Clearly the situation within the government following the assembly election results and before the 2014 general election merits close watching.