New Delhi: Sonia Gandhi wants power and Manmohan Singh the prime-ministership. This makes them indispensible to one another. The Ashwani Kumar controversy must be fitted into this grid. And once that is done, it becomes clear how difficult it is to remove him. This is apart from the fact that once the Union law minister goes, Manmohan Singh comes directly in the firing line, which jeopardizes everything for the Congress president.

By the logic of things, Sonia Gandhi should be a troubled person today. As a mother, she has done everything to advance Rahul Gandhi’s political prospects. But the son is plainly uninterested in doing anything more than now, which amounts to little. He does the odd election campaign, gives pep talk to the Congress youth, runs down dynasticism, but does not follow it to its natural conclusion by quitting politics. Given a choice, Rahul Gandhi would happily make way for sister Priyanka, whose name cropped up once again recently as likely to contest from her mother’s Rae Bareli constituency, which the Congress is widely tipped to lose in the next general election. But brother and sister are unlikely to defy their mother. So Rahul Gandhi will soldier on in politics without the smallest interest in it. And Sonia is clear up to a point that Priyanka Vadra is not her political heir. All in all, the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is stuck for a successor that all the interested parties approve.

In this situation, it becomes supremely important to Sonia Gandhi to maintain and manage the status quo. The original idea of making Manmohan Singh prime minister was that Rahul Gandhi would take over sometime during his tenure or after him once political conditions stabilized in favour of the Congress. Part of the condition was met when the first United Progressive Alliance government made way for the second but Manmohan Singh owned that victory whilst Rahul Gandhi was nowhere near ready nor willing or able to challenge or displace him. When Digvijay Singh speaks against the power-sharing arrangement of Sonia and Manmohan Singh, he voices his personal frustration as well as conveys the angst of the Nehru-Gandhis, although the dynasty is always quick to repudiate his wild interventions. Sonia’s problem is as much Rahul Gandhi as that Manmohan Singh has won his pound of flesh to do her bidding as prime minister.

Sonia needs power not only to keep the dynasty’s flame burning but also to enjoy the fruits that power brings. The Manmohan Singh government is the most corrupt since independence. That is scarcely an accident. But by virtue of covering up for the Nehru-Gandhis and insulating them from corruption allegations, Manmohan Singh has also made his position unassailable vis-a-vis 10, Janpath. He enjoys the TINA factor. There is almost no one who can replace him in this term who can provide satisfaction to Sonia Gandhi. But in the process, Manmohan Singh has also indulged in empire-building. He has surrounded himself with Punjabi ministers -- Ashwani Kumar, Kapil Sibal, Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari, Pawan Kumar Bansal, etc -- who owe their first loyalty to him. Readers may recall Kapil Sibal’s ferocity related to the 2G scandal because the prime minister was involved. It is the same with Coalgate and Ashwani Kumar. After all, who was the Union law minister trying to protect by amending the Central Bureau of Investigation’s status report to the Supreme Court on the coal scam? Manmohan Singh, of course. So the prime minister could hardly permit Ashwani Kumar to be sacrificed.

Because the PM has to protect Ashwani Kumar, and Sonia Gandhi needs Manmohan Singh, the law minister will have to be saved by the Congress. The party does not like doing this. It sees no need to protect upstarts like Ashwani Kumar. But Sonia Gandhi visualizes it differently. She needs Manmohan Singh more than anybody at this point to keep her in power, so his demands have to be met. It happened previously with the Indo-US nuclear deal and multi-brand retail, both dud projects. But with them, Manmohan Singh’s ego was involved. With the Ashwani Kumar controversy, his personal image and integrity are at stake. Manmohan Singh is a fairly shameless man. He has grown a thick hide. Unless there is explicit Supreme Court censure against Ashwani Kumar, he will keep him, and even if there is, he will only reluctantly let him go. If Ashwani Kumar is thrown out and he opens his mouth, then Manmohan Singh is in bigger trouble.

The United Progressive Alliance government seems programmed for a slow and painful death.