At UPA anniversary, Congress flaunts new allies

From the lawns of 7, Race Course Road, the United Progressive Alliance sent out a message to all its opponents on its eighth anniversary: we may be going through a difficult patch, but we are still growing because we represent the forces of secularism and pluralism. For, on stage with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and representatives of the UPA allies were Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav — who won a spectacular victory in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year — and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav. Later, at a dinner, too, the two Yadavs were given pride of place as they sat, flanking Ms. Gandhi and her son, Rahul Gandhi. T.R. Baalu represented the DMK.

There was also a message to Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who stayed away from the UPA's celebrations and sent MoS Saugato Roy in her stead: the alliance was not short of numbers as it had the 21-MP strong SP backing it. Indeed, wittingly or unwittingly, Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav, along with other UPA members, held aloft the UPA's Report to the People for a photo-op, completing the picture of the extended family.

Underscoring the message, Ms. Gandhi, while attacking the Opposition for levelling “irresponsible accusations” against the UPA and taking note of the “storms” inside and outside Parliament that had to be weathered, underscored the need to return to basics: “We are committed to secular principles.”

Ms. Gandhi observed that the mandate in the next polls would depend on the work done, and not on promises.

If many Congress leaders were taken aback at Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav's presence on stage, the party's media managers were quick to offer their interpretations: “For the Congress and the UPA, the secular principle has always stood it in good stead,” a Minister said, emphasising, “We'll do till 2014.” Adding his bit, a senior functionary said, “A thin line separates an ally from a supporter: they should be treated equally as their impact is felt in precisely the same way.” Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav, on his part, merely said that though he was not part of the UPA, he was supporting it from outside and he had been invited on stage.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gandhi, responding to a question on Uttar Pradesh, said the party needed to continue working hard in the State. Asked to explain Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav's presence on stage, he said, “These are two different things.”

So, even as the Congress demonstrated on Tuesday that it had the numbers to push through its own candidate in the upcoming Presidential polls, both Ms. Gandhi and Dr. Singh, in answer to questions whether there would soon be a change in the status of Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee (whose name is in circulation for President), were non-committal. Ms. Gandhi simply said, “I can't say anything yet.”

Earlier, the Prime Minister, in his speech, conceded that the government needed to do better, and said he would welcome a constructive debate. Emphasising that poverty had declined at twice the rate than it had before the UPA government came to power, he pointed out, “Despite an adverse economic environment, India continued to be the second fastest growing economy at the rate of 7%.”

He urged all political parties to rise above partisan considerations so that India could face the uncertain global environment with greater confidence and rise united to the challenges the nation faces.

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