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The record-setting Manmohan Singh

May 16, 2009 11:10 IST

In 1999, a certain Atal Bihari Vajpayee made a spectacular return to power, becoming the first Indian prime minister to do so since the 1970s.

Now, Manmohan Singh, 76, is set to even Vajpayee's feat, with the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance emerging ahead in early trends.

The UPA was projected to get 242 to 250 seats, just 20 to 30 short of majority in the lower house of India's Parliament.

As counting of votes polled in the Lok Sabha election progressed, the answer was increasingly becoming clear that Singh -- who in 2004 was unexpectedly named prime minister after an election that stunned pundits -- seems all set to reprise the role.

He is the first person to be projected as the prime ministerial candidate by the Congress, which has lorded over the affairs of the country for 50 years of the six decades that India has been Independent.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi and General Secretary Rahul Gandhi had thrown their weight behind Singh's candidature and often declared that the leadership issue was "non-negotiable."

Singh is also set to be the first Congress prime minister outside the Gandhi-Nehru family to do so -- and that too while heading a coalition government.

After the Janata Party experiment in 1977 which saw two prime ministers -- Moraraji Desai and Charan Singh -- Indira Gandhi came to power in 1980. After her assassination in October 1984, her son Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister, riding a landslide victory in the Lok Sabha polls.

He could not repeat the magic in 1989 and chose to sit in the Opposition despite the Congress emerging as the single-largest party.

Since then, a majority in Parliament has virtually proved to be a mirage for political parties.

While V P Singh was in the PM's chair for 11 months after the 1989 polls, Chandrashekhar -- who sprang a surprise on him -- lasted just four months.

P V Narasimha Rao completed a full term from 1991 to 1996 while Vajpayee, who followed him, lasted just a few days with his government being dubbed as "13-day

wonder" by the Opposition Congress.

H D Deve Gowda was then at the helm for 11 months and I K Gujral for four months. In 1998 and 1999, it was Vajpayee, before being upset by Manmohan Singh in 2004.

Singh joined politics at the insistence of Narasimha Rao in 1991, when he joined Rao's government as finance minister and became the architect of the economic reforms process.

Singh has bettered his mentor; Rao failed to return to power.  

Sunil Gatade in New Delhi
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