On its third anniversary in office, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) II government on Tuesday offered a demonstration of its strength, with the presidential poll around the corner, as regional leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, Lalu Prasad Yadav of Rashtriya Janata Dal and Janata Dal (Secular) leader H.D. Deve Gowda attended a celebratory dinner at the residence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
But some of the big government supporters stayed home, including Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati, while some UPA allies like Trinamool Congress and DMK were represented by lower ranking leaders. DMK chief M. Karunanidhi cited health reasons, which is understandable as the 87 year-old is wheelchair-bound most of the time. What came as a surprise was that his son and union minister M.K. Alagiri declined the invitation on the grounds that he is “on a diet.”
Singh presented his government’s report card for the year, saying, “Let no one doubt we have done much.” He did, though, admit that his government could have done better. But by roping in the two Yadavs as well Deve Gowda, an important leader of Karnataka state where the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party is in power, the Singh government has sent a signal of consolidation in these difficult times.
The UPA’s show of strength has come at a time when the government is grappling with spiraling food inflation, a plunging rupee, a severe economic slowdown and the opposition’s accusations of policy paralysis.
Still, Tuesday’s dinner party projected a positive image ahead of the presidential election due in July. And the UPA show of strength will have warmed the heart of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, a serious Congress contender for the president’s post. Although UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi hasn’t yet formally announced the Congress party’s presidential candidate, Mukherjee is seen as a frontrunner, although his chances took a hit Monday when Mamata Banerjee, a fellow Bengali, told a TV station that Mukherjee wouldn’t be her first choice for the post.