Tehran/New Delhi: He
left on Tuesday as an embattled prime minister with the Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP) baying for his blood over the presumptive loss
to the nation in alleged irregularity in the award of lucrative
coal mining blocks.
But, by the time he returned on Saturday, Manmohan Singh was
completely reinvigorated, serving notice that he was ready to take
on the BJP, or for that matter, any other political party - but on
his own terms.
The clearest indication of this came during his customary meeting
on board his special aircraft while returning home.
"If I were resigning, I won't be here," the prime minister said
"The people have elected this government for a five-year term. I
hope BJP will respect the verdict and let the parliament function.
If they would like to run it their way, that would be a negation
Why had he allowed the BJP to set parliament's agenda with its
demand for his resignation stalling parliament for eight days, he
"I have to maintain the dignity of the office of the prime
minister. I can't get into a tu-tu main-main or a slanging match
with other political leaders. So it is better, as I said earlier,
that I keep silence."
Manmohan Singh is always firm in his delivery but there is an
element of self-effacement whenever he speaks. That was gone on
Friday afternoon. Here was a prime minister speaking with a
new-found self-confidence, in effect, saying: Enough is enough,
now let's move on.
What then happened in those four days in Tehran to bring about the
For one, there was the banquet Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad hosted for Manmohan Singh Wednesday, a day before the
16th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit opened.
What's so special about that? Well, Manmohan Singh was not on a
state visit to Iran. He was only to meet Ahmadinejad and Iranian
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for bilateral talks on a day
when some 60-odd heads of state or government were in Tehran for
the summit. And yet, Ahmadinejad chose to host a banquet for
Manmohan Singh - a powerful signal of the esteem he held him in.
The import was certainly not lost on the prime minister.
Then, Manmohan Singh all but confessed to a virtual spiritual
experience during the meeting with Khamenei.
"I was particularly struck by what the Supreme Leader told me
about his interest and involvement in Indian affairs. He recalled
the influence that Mahatma Gandhi had on him, the role that
Jawaharlal Nehru played in India's freedom struggle, his visit to
India in 1980-81, meetings with Mrs. Gandhi, visiting various
other parts of our country including Hyderabad.
"And what I was more struck by was his statement that a country of
India's great diversity, different languages, different religions,
has greater chances of achieving its national goals, if there is
growing respect for tolerance and respect for diversity. He said
that is the way of the future, human civilization is moving in
that direction, and what India is trying to achieve is truly
remarkable," related Manmohan Singh.
Surely, a breath of fresh air that was - particularly from someone
who doesn't really need to wax eloquent about India.
And finally, there was the summit inaugural Thursday. Manmohan
Singh was originally scheduled to speak sometime in the afternoon,
where his address might have just got lost.
Ahmadinejad ensured that didn't happen, juggling the list to
ensure Manmohan Singh was among the earliest speakers. Finally,
the prime minister was at centre stage in his own right - an
economist and a statesman. He was among leaders whose mindset was
far removed from the West and who did not just see the world in
black and white but in the in-betweens that were equally
At the same time, there were no tangibles from the visit - a bland
agreement to improve the trade balance that is tilted against
India, no movements on the manner of India's oil imports and no
agreement on the price of gas to be carried by a pipeline from
Iran to India through Pakistan.
But for once, the intangibles seem to have overtaken the tangibles
and Manmohan Singh had seized the moment.
Makhijani can be contacted at email@example.com)