Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's one-line answer last evening to a question on whether he would accept a third term as Prime Minister - he neither said yes, nor an emphatic no - was played down by his party the Congress today.
But the BJP highlighted the fact that he had not rejected the idea saying "the reluctant politician has shown his true political colours. And those are audaciously ambitious." The party's Ravi Shankar Prasad criticised the PM's performance at the helm of the Congress-led UPA government and said, "The people of this country do not want to see him as the PM for a third time. In nine years prices have gone up and so has corruption. People are fed up."
The Prime Minister had said on board his special aircraft while returning from South Africa, that "these are hypothetical questions, we will cross that bridge when we reach there." Asked whether he would still have the drive and energy to continue to contribute to public life now that he is in his '80s, the Prime Minister said, "I have tried my very best to serve this country with all sincerity, with all dedication. Whether I have succeeded or not, it is for the public at large - the people of India - to judge."
The Congress' Manish Tewari today pointed out that the Prime Minster had said nothing to suggest he was ready for a third term.
In the BJP's sharp reaction, political watchers see exasperation at the Manmohan Singh government not seeming to trip despite losing two major allies in the Trinamool Congress and more recently the DMK, and being virtually held to ransom by the fickle Mulayam Singh Yadav, who continues to give it external support, but also keeps it constantly on an edge with threats both veiled and open.
Yesterday, Mr Yadav told his party workers to start preparing for early Lok Sabha elections; he expected polls by November this year, he said. Coming as it did on top of a scathing attack on the Congress, it seemed to indicate that Mr Yadav was ready to pull the rug from under the UPA. But today, he came back from the brink again, with his party assuring the UPA that it was not withdrawing support. That after Finance Minister P Chidambaram had said in Lucknow that the government would consider giving the SP-ruled Uttar Pradesh more Central funds.
Last evening, the PM acknowledged that there was a possibility that the SP would pull out, but said he was confident that his government would complete its full term, which ends in mid-2014.
Even before Mr Yadav assured the government that his support continues, Sharad Yadav of the JD-U wagered that the SP chief would not rock the boat. He also said, "I don't think the UPA has a numbers issue. This government always manages its numbers from somewhere."
And AB Bardhan of the Left said, almost wonderingly, "The way they are running the government, it will keep on moving. They only know how they manage to add new partners. They are experts in this game."