Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s lavish praise for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, at public rallies on two consecutive days in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram and in Karnataka’s Mandya, is being read in party circles as an effort not just to assuage his feelings but to protect the government’s pro-poor legacy.

A senior Congress functionary said that it was not merely a question of restoring Dr. Singh’s esteem: “We will be going to general elections on the strength of the UPA government’s record of welfare schemes and other achievements. We cannot do that by denigrating the Prime Minister who has led the UPA and provided a stable government for now more than nine years.” He also pointed out that the Congress could not afford to allow the Prime Minister to be the butt of the BJP’s jokes.

On Sunday, Ms. Gandhi, speaking at a function at Neyar Dam, about 30 km from Thiruvananthapuram, said, “They [marginalised sections] faced discrimination at every level. The UPA government, led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has lifted millions of them through its flagship schemes.”

The Aragkaykiran scheme for children below 18 years launched by the Oommen Chandy government, she stressed, was in tune with the health and welfare schemes implemented by the UPA government under the “able leadership of PM Manmohan Singhji”.

On Monday, Ms. Gandhi lashed out at the BJP for “making fun” of the Prime Minister, vigorously defending him saying that the “whole party stands behind him”.

“They [the BJP] make fun of our party, they make fun of our Prime Minister,” she told a Congress rally in Mandya, underscoring the fact that “the whole party stands behind the Prime Minister.”

Ms. Gandhi’s unstinting public support of the Prime Minister comes in the wake of the continuing political storm over Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s censure on Friday of the UPA government for clearing an ordinance to protect convicted lawmakers from immediate disqualification — and the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi using those comments at a rally on Sunday to say that since Dr Singh was not respected by his own party, he could hardly hope to enjoy any regard abroad.

Congress sources said Dr. Singh expressed his deep sense of hurt when he telephoned Ms Gandhi from the United States. The Congress president, these sources added, sought to assure him that Mr Gandhis remarks were not intended to undermine his position at all. This was followed by a contrite e-mail from Mr’. Gandhi to the Prime Minister, assuring him of his “admiration” for the manner in which Dr Singh had been “providing leadership in extremely difficult circumstances”, while hoping that he would “understand the strength” of his own “conviction about this very controversial issue”.

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