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Sarko steals the show

January 28, 2008

For everyone who thinks Rahul Gandhi will be the Congress party's prime ministerial candidate at the next general election, here's our prediction -- Dr Manmohan Singh will continue to be in charge.

No longer is the prime minister a wilting violet when it comes to pressing the flesh. At the President's At Home -- the tea party the First Citizen hosts on the occasion of Republic Day and Independence Day -- on Saturday, Dr Singh startled us when he leapt from his chair in the VVIPs area and made his way towards us the janta.

He first sought Special Protection Group Director B V Wanchoo's okay (unlike past premiers who would have imperially summoned the official, the prime minister, whose humility has been compared to a ballistic missile, walked across the lawn to the SPG chief), then moved to the cordoned off crowd and shook hands with a gusto that took our breath away.

At past At Homes this reporter has attended, Dr Singh has stayed within the elite enclosure, only interacting with the vice-president, the Lok Sabha speaker and the Chief Justice of India. Perhaps, it had something to do with the individual who previously occupied Rashtrapati Bhavan. A P J Abdul Kalam's walkabouts were of the kind that rock stars conducted in their heyday; anyone would be intimidated by that kind of star appeal, and Dr Singh is not one to steal anyone's thunder.

Or perhaps this new zeal to divest his trademark reticence to employ the tools of the political trade may have something to do with the fact that he will be his party's nominee to take on the BJP's prime ministerial nominee L K Advani at the hustings. There are many in the Congress who believe the party did not adequately project the benefits of Manmohanics in the Gujarat election which has brought such wealth to millions of that state's investors. They believe the party will need to craft a better, more coherent, message of change, development and prosperity come the general election, and who better to convey that to the people than the man superstar Rajnikanth recently described as a 'political saint.'

No longer does Dr Singh appear a man in a sulk as a senior newspaper editor described him to us a couple of months ago. The burden of the India-US nuclear agreement being bogged down in the Marxist mire no longer seems to weigh on him, at least in public where these days he radiates good cheer and the impression that he is a man with a mission to change India as best as he can.

Nearly ten years ago, we predicted that Dr Singh would head the government, an event that transpired five years later. We believe Sonia Gandhi is likely to extend her son's apprenticeship a tad longer before she contemplates a change at the helm.

Impressions: Nikhil Lakshman. The prime minister greets guests at the Presidential tea party. Photograph: Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images

Also Read: 'The prime minister's ballistic missile is his humility'

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