QUESTION : Sir, switching to foreign policy, we have seen two major initiatives from your Government, to engage Pakistan and tie up the loose ends on the nuclear deal. On Pakistan, why did you choose to resume the dialogue with Pakistan at the Foreign Ministerial level at Thimphu? Will this be a full-fledged dialogue? Is there going to be a change in nomenclature? Is it going to be a composite dialogue or anything else? On the US front, are you confident of having the Nuclear Liability Bill through the Parliament and tie up the loose ends?
ANSWER: As far as your first question is concerned, Pakistan is our neighbour. It is my firm belief that India cannot realise its full development potential unless we have the best possible relations with our neighbours and Pakistan happens to be the largest neighbour of ours.
There have been problems. I don’t have to go into them and it has been my efforts to try to reduce the gap between our two countries without surrendering or without affecting our vital national interest. It is my conviction that the major problem between our two countries why we haven’t been able to make headway in the composite dialogue is that there has been lack of adequate trust. The trust deficit is the biggest problem and unless we tackle the trust deficit, we cannot move to substantive negotiations, and, at Thimpu, the Prime Minister Gilani and I have agreed that trust deficit is a major problem blocking progress in the direction of moving forward and that it should be our common endeavour to bridge or to reduce this trust deficit. That is why we have agreed that the Foreign Ministers and the Foreign Secretaries would meet.
With regard to the nuclear issue, well, I have no doubt that as far as the Nuclear Agreement with the United States is concerned, it will move forward. We have need to ensure that our country does have an effective nuclear liability compensation arrangement.
We need this if we have to become a major nuclear energy power; and for this reason we have sent a Bill to Parliament. I am convinced that this Bill, which is before Parliament, it will be before the Standing Committee, will have the support of all political parties interested in India’s growth, interested in ensuring that India’s nuclear power programme moves forward.
QUESTION: Sir, my question is, did the UPA-I underestimate the threat of Naxal violence and is the country having to pay the price for security agencies not estimating the reach and the capacity of Naxals in creating this situation in the country where it seems like your Government is really dousing fires?
ANSWER: Well, if you remember, I have been saying for the last three years that Naxalism is the biggest internal security challenge that our country faces, and, therefore, it is not correct to say that we have underestimated the magnitude of the problem that we face on account of the rise of Naxalism.
QUESTION: Sir, there has been a controversy over the last few days over the Home Minister’s statement, and you also must have heard that statement. The Home Minister had said that he has a limited mandate, as far as tackling naxal terror is concerned. Subsequently, he has given an interpretation of the same issue saying that he meant that it was a mandate of the States to tackle, whichever the interpretation. First, we would like a clarification from you, as the head of this Government on whether there is a limited mandate to tackle naxal terror that has been given to the Home Minister, and, secondly, you yourself on several occasions have said that naxal terrorism is the biggest challenge for this country. Will you leave it to the States to tackle this?
ANSWER: Well, naxalism has emerged as the biggest single internal security challenge.
This I have been stating for the last three years. With regard to what has been stated by the hon. Home Minister, he has explained what he meant by his having a limited mandate.
These are issues which are strategy issues which will be discussed in the appropriate forum of the Cabinet whenever the opportunity arises. But, as far as I am concerned, I do recognize that although law and order is primarily the States’ responsibility, this is a problem which has acquired a magnitude that cooperation between the Centre and the States is absolutely necessary and that the Central Government must help the States in every possible way.
QUESTION: Sir, some leaders of the Congress Party have brought attention to another issue as an internal security issue, which is the issue of Hindu terrorism. And the Congress has, in its briefings, been suggesting that the Government should do, perhaps, more on that issue. The prominent leaders of the party have said that they have written to you about it suggesting that the Home Minister should set up a special cell. Do you think it is such a grave threat, and do you think that more needs to be done in that area?
ANSWER: Well, terrorism is a major national security issue, but terrorism has no religion. Terror, if it is being sponsored by particular religious elements, it has to be dealt with effectively and purposefully. And, therefore, our Government’s policy is that whatever be the source or terror, whether it is Muslim involvement or Hindu involvement, regardless of religion, I think, we must tackle that problem effectively.
QUESTION: I believe you are going to Kashmir very soon. Are you close to a deal with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue and have we revived these backchannel talks and are you optimistic that during your tenure we will find a lasting solution to the Kashmir issue?
ANSWER: Well, I have said more than once that we are willing to discuss with Pakistan all outstanding issues and the only condition is that Pakistan’s territory should not be utilized for spreading terror in India, against India. As far as my visit to Kashmir is concerned, it is a visit to one of the States of the Union. There I would like to review the development programme, and, as far as the political situation in Jammu & Kashmir is concerned, we have a democratic Government, how it is functioning, I would like to discuss with the Government of Jammu & Kashmir, what more can be done to accelerate the pace of development. Furthermore, I would like, I think, once again to appeal to all elements in Jammu & Kashmir that our Government is ready for a dialogue provided all these groups which are outside the political mainstream shed the path of violence.
QUESTION: You have said, in your opening statement, that all the UPA constituents are united in their commitment to provide the country with a strong and purposeful Government. My question is that in the next year, that is, 2011, four States will be facing Assembly Elections where the UPA constituents will also be facing elections. Will the seat adjustments, in these elections, have any impact on the stability of the Government at the Centre because we find some discontent with these parties, as far as seat adjustment is concerned?
ANSWER: I think, we are too far away from the elections. Right now, my mind is concentrated on economic, political and social issues of inclusive growth. When the time comes, we will take appropriate decisions in all these matters.
QUESTION: Have you finally decided in favour of caste census?
ANSWER: I had made a statement in the Parliament in which I had said that we would take into account the views expressed in Parliament by various sections of opinion. And, I will ask the Cabinet to consider that. That process is on.
QUESTION: You have, just now, referred to the problem of trust deficit with Pakistan. What are your expectations from Pakistan to reduce this trust deficit?
ANSWER: We are going to make a beginning. The composite dialogue had been suspended soon after the attack on Mumbai. Subsequently, the process has not moved forward and this will be the first major effort to deal with the underlined cause, that is, lack of adequate amount of trust between our two countries. I am hopeful that this process can move forward. That was, at least, the message I got from talking to the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister, you have spoken in the past, in the context of Jammu and Kashmir, of your Government having zero tolerance towards the violation of human rights.
Five years ago, the Central Bureau of Investigation indicted several Army men for the murder of five innocent Kashmiri villagers at Panchalthan. They were killed in 2000. The CBI investigated the case and filed a chargesheet indicting officers and personnel of the Rashtriya Rifles for murder. Five years have passed. The trial has not yet started because the Ministry of Defence refuses to grant sanction to prosecute. Is this not a violation of the assurance that you gave that your Government would have zero tolerance towards violation of human rights?
ANSWER: I once again repeat that our Government has zero tolerance for violation of human rights of all our citizens. I am not familiar with the details of this particular incident. I will look into it.
QUESTION: I just want to bring to your notice that there have been many accidents and incidents. Seventy-six jawans were killed in Dantewada. Yesterday, we had a terrible air accident. In these incidents, we see that sometimes Ministers offer resignations, and sometimes, they don’t. But, when they do, you reject it. Who is accountable for all these things? Could you please explain to us?
ANSWER: As the Prime Minister of the country, I am accountable to the Parliament; I am accountable to the people at large. So, I express my deep sorrow at these incidents, whether it is Dantewada incident or the tragedy that took place in Mangalore. There are issues which have to be tackled. We have to go into the causes of all these tragedies, what can be done to put in place systems and procedures that so far as humanly possible, these incidents and these tragedies are not repeated again and again.
SHRI HARISH KHARE: We have some representatives of foreign media also.
QUESTION: Foreign journalists, in India, are facing a lot of problems in getting the PIB cards. Temporary cards are issued for us and I faced a big problem in getting into this Press Conference hall. I took me about 20 minutes. I understand that issuance of permanent cards takes from six months to two years, making it impossible for us to be functional. Your Excellency, may I ask you to talk to your Government to solve this problem?
ANSWER: I am very sorry to hear that it took you so long to enter into this building. I will certainly ask the relevant Minister or the Ministries to look into this issue.
QUESTION: Let me, first of all, congratulate you on completing first year, and the question that you were responding to that you would like the people of this country to cast a judgment on your functioning. Well, on a poll, which was done on our channel, an overwhelming majority was supporting you and your effort. But, my question is related to something which is bothering a lot of countrymen and that is related to corruption within your Government, specifically I am talking about the Telecommunication Ministry. Now, in the first stint of the UPA Government, when the 2-G spectrum was done, a pittance was generated. When the 3-G spectrum was done, more than Rs. 73,000 crores were generated. Do you not think that there is something seriously amiss here? Or, do you think that Telecom Minister, Mr. A. Raja, is completely in the clean?
ANSWER: This matter has been discussed in the Parliament. He has expressed his views in public. I think, day before yesterday, he gave a long interview to The Hindu. I have also discussed this issue with Mr. Raja and he has told me that what he did was to implement a policy which was in place, that he had the recommendations of TRAI and of the Telecom Commission supporting a course of action.
It is certainly true that if you compare figures of what was collected by 2G process as against 3G process, there is a huge gap. But, I think, one has to look at this whole problem in proper perspective. There was a particular policy which was in place since 2003, before our Government came into power, and Mr. Raja’s point was that it would amount to discrimination against various new entrants if a different yardstick was appointed. Subsequently, some complaints were received by the CVC. The CVC has asked the CBI to look into this. That process is on. Pending that investigation, it is not proper for me to express any definite opinion. I would like to say that our Government has been very clear right from the beginning that corruption is a problem, and if I come to know that there is any involvement at any level in corruption, we will take action.
QUESTION: I have a very short question, Sir. Has Congress benefited from the coalition politics? And, will there be a UPA-III?
ANSWER: I think, you have experience of the first five years. We are in the sixth year. Although we are a coalition Government, we have given our country a Government which works, which has delivered high rates of growth, which has accelerated the process towards inclusive growth. I have every reason to believe that we will move forward; we will complete our term. As far as what happens after this term, we are, I think, too far away from that event for me to offer any opinion.
QUESTION: Sir, do you support creation of new States in the country?
ANSWER: Well, there is no agreement as of now to create new States. There have been demands for the creation of the Telangana State. That matter has been referred to a Committee under a very distinguished former Judge of the Supreme Court. Pending the receipt of that report, it is very difficult for me to offer any meaningful comments.
QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister, my question is regarding Rahul Gandhi. When is he likely to join your Cabinet? Have you asked him again any time after last year’s swearing-in to join your Cabinet since he is being projected as the next Prime Minister of the country?
ANSWER: Well, Rahul is well qualified to hold a Cabinet post. I have discussed with him on a number of occasions though I don’t remember exactly the date when I last discussed this matter but he has always been reluctant to give a positive answer, telling me that he has duties to perform in reviving the Congress Party and he is doing a very good job. I have every reason to believe that as and when he is ready to join the Cabinet, he would be a very, very appropriate addition to the Cabinet.
QUESTION: Sir, just to reiterate what my colleague was asking, do you see the possibility of your retiring during this present tenure and making place for Rahul Gandhi, giving him a chance to become Prime Minister of this country?
ANSWER: Well, let me say that I sometimes feel that younger people should take over. As and when, I think, the Congress Party makes that judgment, I would be very happy to make place for anybody the Congress Party may choose.
QUESTION: Sir, some States like Kerala are not implementing the Central Government schemes properly. They are even changing the name of Central Government schemes to claim credit. What measures do you plan to take to make the implementation of the Central Schemes more effective and transparent?
ANSWER: Well, I think the Planning Commission and the relevant Central Ministries are in constant dialogue with the State Governments to ensure that various Centrally-sponsored schemes or Central sector schemes are properly implemented.
ANSWER: Well, the honest answer is, I could do better than what I have done, but I am reasonably satisfied with the pace at which I have been working.
QUESTION: Sir, my question is, whether the UPA Government has taken action to check illegal mining activities in Orissa, which is posing a serious national threat.
ANSWER: Well, the Mines Ministry is looking after this matter, and I have every reason to hope that if anything concrete comes to the attention of the Government, we will take effective action.
QUESTION: Sir, on behalf of my Paper and the people of Tamil Nadu, first of all, we congratulate you for the completion of the first year of the UPA-II Government. Sir, my question related to the water dispute. You know well in Southern India Tamil Nadu is one of the States which is totally depending on water for its own requirement on the neighbouring States. You know the ground reality. During the last month, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu was in Delhi, and while addressing a public meeting, he made a statement that the Centre is merely acting like a spectator in water disputes as well as in inter-linking of rivers. The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu made it very clear that the nation’s integrity seems to be meaningless if the Centre continues to be a spectator. What is your reaction to it?
ANSWER: Well, let me say that I do agree that water is emerging and is going to become a major issue in years to come. But, it is not correct to say that the Central Government is only a mere bystander. I think, there are certain established rules, laws of the land which have to be implemented. There are tribunals which have been appointed to go into the various aspects of dispute between various States about the utilization of water. Within the four corners of the law, every possible effort is being made and will be made to find amicable solution to these problems.
QUESTION: Sir, your opening remarks as well as the UPA’s Programmes touch upon various reform measures you have initiated. But, it is silent on one crucial reform that the country badly needs, i.e., the political reform. We spend tens of thousands of crores of rupees on the political system, for which there is no institutional form of funding. So, this money is mobilized through corruption, loot of the exchequer, sale of patronage, whether for mining or anything else or by extorting money from the public. Unless you have institutional means of financing political activity, economic growth will come down, your hopes of realizing fast paced, broad based growth will not be achieved, and Government schemes will continue to lose money through diversion. We cannot hope for this kind of a reform from many people, but we can expect this from you. So, what is being done to initiate reform of political financing?
ANSWER: Well, this is not a new question. It has been debated earlier also. There is no doubt, I think, general awareness of the fact that financing of political parties and financing of elections is a source of generating what is come to be known as black money in our country, but it requires a broad based consensus among various political parties to move forward.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Good morning, Mr. Prime Minister. Sir, there have been instances of mismatch in the views on a number of issues between the Party and the Government, beginning from the Sharmel Sheikh episode, then the price rise, then the RTI amendments and, recently, Naxalism, of course. Have the party’s view at times been undervalued, and, is there a need for a larger coordination mechanism to ensure that views are synchronized?
ANSWER: Well, there is no dearth of effective coordination mechanism. I think, I am very fortunate that I have the benefit of constant advice and guidance by the Congress President, Shrimati Sonia Gandhi. Invariably, we meet every week to discuss all major issues or issues that need to be discussed. So, there is no basis for the belief that there are no effective coordination mechanisms for coordinating the work and coordinating the views between the Government and the Congress Party.
QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister, in your second term in office, do you miss the structured support that you received from the Left for most of your first term?
ANSWER: Well, if wishes were horses, even beggars would ride. I know it cannot become a reality. But, I would like all likeminded political parties, who care about the well-being of our people, who support the general approach towards inclusive growth, which we are trying to put in place, to come and join us in carrying forward this process of sustained and equitable development.
ANSWER: There are several issues which concern the relations between me and my Ministers and it would not be proper for me to, I think, discuss these issues in broad public daylight.
ANSWER: Well, I think, I am very privileged to have the benefit of constant advice from both, Shrimati Sonia Gandhi and my wife. But both of them deal with different subjects, and I welcome the advices from both of them.
QUESTION: How do you respond to the Opposition’s allegation that the Government had misused the CBI for winning crucial supports in the No Confidence Motion in July, 2008, and, then, again, during the Cut Motion in April, 2010. The instance they cite to the point is CBI’s observation in the Supreme Court that it will consider scrapping the DA case against Ms. Mayawati and also the DA case against Shri Lalu Prasad Yadav.
ANSWER: There is no truth in the statement that our Government is misusing the CBI. People should know that as far as dealing with offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act is concerned, the CBI is autonomous. Its superintendence is only in the purview of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner. Our Government does not interfere, in any way, in that area.
ANSWER: ’Soft State’ or ’Hard State’, I think, is a matter of perception. Perceptions can vary from person to person. Same person can have different perceptions at different times. Perceptions can vary among individuals. As far as the case, which you have referred to, is concerned, there is a law of the land and legal processes are there in our country. I think, they should be allowed to have their own course.
QUESTION: How differently you and your Government intend to work in these five years than past five years?
ANSWER: Well, this is a long journey which we started six years ago. We have important successes to our credit. But, I think, we have to get rid of chronic poverty, mass ignorance and disease which still afflict millions and millions of our people. Therefore, our task is well laid out to get rid of this chronic poverty, mass ignorance and disease. And, whatever is needed, I think, we need a high rate of growth, and in this statement, that I have submitted to you, I have said that we need, in the medium term, a growth rate of ten per cent per annum; we need to invest more in infrastructure - social and economic; we need to increase the productivity and efficiency of our agriculture; we need to work with all the State Governments to ensure that our development programmes deliver the right amount of benefit to all people, particularly those belonging to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and minorities. And, therefore, our path is well laid out and we need the support of our people to carry forward this tremendous amount of effort that is needed to make a success of this programme.
QUESTION: What are your reasons for believing that you will succeed in building a relationship based on trust with Pakistan?
ANSWER: Well, I can’t say that I know the answer. It is our obligation to make every effort to normalise relations with India’s neighbours. That is essential, I have always believed, to realise development potential of our country. We will make every effort; whether we succeed or not, that only the future can tell.
QUESTION: Sir, my question is that infrastructure is a major problem in the North East. In spite of sufficient funds having been given for the North East Region, for the development of infrastructure sector in the North East Region, the situation remains the same. In spite of all efforts, corruption is rampant over there. What are your comments on that; and is any action being taken for that?
ANSWER: All I can say is that our Government has increased very substantially the allocations for the development of infrastructure in the North Eastern Region. I think the amount of money that we have allocated has never been allocated before. It is the solemn obligation of the State Governments of the North East and the people of the North East to pool their wisdom, knowledge and experience to see that these funds are properly utilised.
QUESTION: Sir, in the last one year, we have seen a perceptible difference in the running of your Government from the last five years. There have been incidences, where the perception is that you have not been able to get your own way in many things, beginning with the appointment of the Finance Minister of your choice. My question is, is there a growing distrust between you and the Congress President in this last one year which was not there in the five years of UPA-I? Secondly, Sir, are you a little uncomfortable this year?
ANSWER: I have answered your question before. There is not an iota of truth that there is any element of distrust or mistrust between me and the Congress President. The Congress President is the Leader of the United Progressive Alliance. She is the President of the Congress. I am a Congressman. Therefore, there is no question of there being a gap in thinking or a gap between me and the Congress President when it comes to doing things which our Government should be doing.
QUESTION: Sir, my question is just the same one. The National Advisory Council has been set up for the second time and it is being considered a kind of super Cabinet which will put an impact on the policies of the Government. Do you think that, first, this is a super Cabinet and whether it will create a problem for running the Government?
ANSWER: It is not a super Cabinet; it is an advisory body. It brings to bear on social sector development a perspective essentially of the civil society, its various actors, and that is a very important input. The National Advisory Council, in the past six years, I think, it is not there for the last couple of years now, but when it did exist, it made very effective contribution to pushing forward the programme of social development by our Government.
QUESTION: Sir, there is a section of intelligentsia in this country which thinks that you are too pro-America and can even ignore national interests. Even the Left, during the last term, accused you of working on American agenda. How do you respond to that?
ANSWER: Well, I am working only to an agenda which, I believe, serves India, to the best of my ability. I don’t think there is any thing that I can say on this matter. It is for the public and the people of India to judge.
QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister, do you have any specific milestones that Pakistan should fulfil to reduce the trust deficit? How do you value our relationship with US? Are we going to get access to Headley?
ANSWER. Well, I have been assured by the highest in the United States Administration that we will get access to Mr. Headley.
QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister, in the first five years, you were called a weak Prime Minster. There was a tough opposition; there was the Left. Well, you answered them; but do you think of being weakened by your own Party this time round? We have Mr. Jairam Ramesh; we have Mr. Chidambaram; the list is, in a sense, endless? Has your Party weakened you?
ANSWER: I don’t have any such feelings. I welcome a dialogue between Ministers and we are a democracy; we are a country of a billion people and in this large country, I think, it is very important that we should explore and take advantage of the diverse opinions that may exist in a country as large, as complex and as diverse as India is. So, personally, I think this is an advantage. I think it is a healthy development that Ministers give their opinion freely though, of course, it is very important that in matters which are before the Cabinet, I think, these things are first taken up in the Cabinet itself.
QUESTON: Sir, let me congratulate you first for your completion of first year of the second term as Prime Minister and you have had the rare honour of carrying with you the Lefts and the anti-Lefts in two terms. Now, I would like to know from you one thing. Sir, what is the feeling of the Prime Minister when a Minister who is the Member of your Cabinet ignores the collective responsibility and differs strongly with the Government and airs the differences in the public? What is your feeling?
ANSWER: Well, I think, I have said that it is not good that Ministers should air their differences in public. The Cabinet meets every week and I am very pleased to tell you that our Cabinet, in the last six years, have met almost on schedule every week. So, Ministers have plenty of opportunities to express their views, and, it is, therefore, I agree with the view that I think if these views are first aired in the Cabinet, then that is the right thing to do.
QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister, my question to you is, you mentioned that India cannot realize its full development potential unless it achieves peace with its neighbour, Pakistan. Now, which of the two, a double-digit economic growth or peace with Pakistan, is your pet project for UPA-II? By that what I mean is, which is the one on which you may even stake your Government like you did last time on the question of Civilian Nuclear Agreement?
ANSWER: Well, we will work in both the directions to ensure that our country gets a growth rate of about 10 per cent in the medium term. Also that there is peace and amity in our neighbourhood, that the differences with Pakistan are reduced to a level whereby, I think, we can create a greater atmosphere of trust between our two countries.
QUESTION: Sir, my question to you is this. You are in your sixth successive year as the Prime Minister of India, and, Sir, what would you say, is the most important legacy issue for you in this tenure?
ANSWER: Well, I think, I am not really bothered about the legacy issues. I have a task to accomplish. I am trying to do that to the best of my ability. For the rest, the legacy or what are the issues for legacy, it is for the historians to pronounce judgments.
SHRI HARISH KHARE: Thank you very much, Ladies and Gentlemen. The Press
Conference comes to an end now.