New Delhi: Every decade in Indian politics throws up a classic personality clash. It was Indira Gandhi versus Kamraj in the 60s, Indira Gandhi versus Jayaprakash Naryaan in the 70s, Rajiv Gandhi versus V P Singh in the 80s and H D Deve Gowda versus Sitaram Kesri in the 90s.
And first decade of this millennium will be remembered for the face-off between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and CPM General Secretary, Prakash Karat.
The gentle, soft-spoken Prime Minister never gave the impression that he would stand a test of political resilience.
The Left had kept quiet when the Indo-US Nuclear Deal was first conceived in 2005. The tension flared up in the monsoon of 2007 when the Left insisted there wouldn't be any compromise on foreign policy.
Prakash Karat had said that time, "It is for the Congress leadership to decide on the matter, which will have serious consequences for the Government and the country."
That threat was preceded by an anguished Prime Minister's interview to a newspaper, where Manmohan Singh challenging the Left to withdraw support on the deal.
The political alignment at the time didn't favour the Prime Minister. The allies and even the Congress turned down the suggestion of early polls.
Manmohan Singh retreated into a shell, the Opposition labelled him the weakest Prime Minister ever, he said he wasn't deal-obsessed.
"We are not a one-issue Government, though it is true that if the deal does not come through, it will be a disappointment," Manmohan Singh had said at the HT Summit.
However, the Prime Minister bided his time. A month before his trip to the G-8 summit in Tokyo, he reopened the dialogue, making it clear that his continuing in office would depend on the party agreeing to the deal.
The party and the allies couldn't have dumped the Prime Minister.
It's the birth of the politician in Manmohan Singh. For the past four years, the PMO has been like an island cut off from the political mainstream, the centre of gravity for the ruling party being 10 Janpath.
Now by forcing his party to dump the Left, Manmohan Singh is redrawing the political landscape of the country. The man with the soft smile is having the last laugh.
(With inputs from Diptosh Majumdar)