Mamata Banerjee will not be there, M Karunanidhi has cried off, but A Raja might just be present at a dinner being hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to mark the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government's three years in office tonight. The Trinamool Congress chief has not bothered to make a strong excuse for her absence, but the DMK's M Karunanidhi has said he is too ill to attend, but all his MPs in Delhi will be there. Mr Raja, just out of jail on 2G scam charges, is one of them.
This effectively means that the heads of the Congress' two biggest allies in the UPA will be missing at the PM's dinner.
Ms Banerjee's decision to stay away comes at a time when there is growing uneasiness between her party and the Congress. She recently celebrated her own one year as West Bengal CM and is unhappy that she could not coerce the Centre into allowing a moratorium on payment of interest on loans worth crores to her state, which is in deep financial crisis. PTI quoted Railway Minister and Mamata aide Mukul Roy as saying that though a "personal invitation" had been sent to Ms Banerjee for dinner tonight, she would not attend because of her "pre-occupation" in the state.
The 87-year-old Mr Karunanidhi cited poor health for staying away, but his son and UPA's Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers, MK Alagiri, too will not attend the dinner party. "I am on a diet," he quipped. But Mr Alagiri said he gave the government his party partners at the Centre a 100 per cent on performance.
Both the DMK and the Trinamool have said they will be represented.
Another leader who might stay away despite being invited is the BSP's Mayawati. Asked if she was going the former UP chief minister, on whom the UPA counts for issue based support to make up numbers in Parliament, said she had been too busy to read the invitation letter. "After reading the letter I would be able to decide anything", she said with a smile.
This evening, the government will also release a report card on its performance before it sits down to the celebratory dinner.
Not that the mood is particularly festive. The government is grappling with runaway prices, a plunging rupee and a growth slowdown. It is under constant attack from the opposition which has accused it of a lack of leadership and policy paralysis. It has been afforded the opportunity to make that last accusation largely because of allies like Mamata Banerjee who has brandished her numbers in the coalition time and again to scuttle important policy decisions and key economic legislations like Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail.
Those coalition compulsions have made it a tough year for the Congress-led UPA, which had a far smoother run in its first term, despite the uneasy partnership and eventual fallout with the Left parties. In that term, the Manmohan Singh government had pushed decisions regardless of pressures.