New Delhi: Dismissing talk that he is a “lameduck” Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh Wednesday said he has been entrusted with the job by the Congress party from which he has not heard “any contrary view”.
Terming the perception that his government had gone “comatose” and was “lameduck” as clever propaganda of the Opposition “to which some sections of the media had lent ear”, Singh asserted that “truth will prevail” and his performance will speak.
Singh spoke of “maximum possible cooperation” that he was getting from Congress President Sonia Gandhi whom he met one-on-one every week. He had never felt that she was an “obstacle”.
During a 100-minute interaction with five editors at his official residence, a relaxed Prime Minister confidently fielded questions on a wide range of issues including the talk that Rahul Gandhi should take his place, the Lokpal Bill, corruption and relations with neighbouring countries.
Sonia Gandhi had done a “superb job” as Congress President for nearly 15 years now, he underlined.
Asked about occasional statements from party functionaries that Rahul Gandhi should become Prime Minister, Singh said that the Congress Party and its president had entrusted him with this job and he had not heard any contrary view from the Congress high command.
“In fact, the Congress high command has always been most supportive, particularly Mrs Gandhi,” the Prime Minister said.
He went on to add, “Personally, if you ask me, the general proposition that younger people should take over, I think, is the right sentiment”. Whenever the party “makes up its mind I will be very happy to step down, but so long as I am here I have a job to do”.
To a question about a possible reshuffle of his Cabinet, the Prime Minister said it was a “work in progress”.
Asked if it could take place soon, Singh replied, “I cannot predict.”
About Lokpal Bill, he said it was essential and desirable. The country needed a strong Lokpal although it is not not a “panacea”.
He told the editors that he would try to find a way on the Lokpal issue and work for a national consensus. The government would reach out to the civil society but no group can insist that their views “A to Z” are the last word.
As for bringing the office of the Prime Minister under the purview of the Lokpal, the Prime Minister said that he has no hesitation in bringing himself under it.
However, many of his Cabinet colleagues were of the view that bringing the institution of the Prime Minister under Lokpal would create “an element of instability which can go out of hand”.
In any case, the Prime Minister is covered by the anti-corruption act and is a 24-hour servant of the people, he said pointing out that a person holding that office can be removed by Parliament.
Singh said that he would like to be “guided” by political parties on this issue. Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalitha and her Punjab counterpart Prakash Singh Badal had both expressed their views that this office should be kept out of Lokpal’s purview.
Told about doubts being raised about the stability of his government, particularly in the light of problems with DMK, the Prime Minister said, “We have some points of tension but nobody wants an election.”
On dialogue with civil society, he said that the government should appear to be receptive to what the society says and he had himself encouraged a dialogue with Anna Hazare.
With regard to Ramdev also, the effort was not to create unnecessary misunderstanding, he said, adding that he had earlier written to the yoga guru to share some of his concerns on blackmoney and corruption.
About the controversy surrounding the decision of four union ministers to meet Ramdev at Delhi airport, the Prime Minister said it was not to “receive” him but the meeting had been arranged so that it could take place before he entered Delhi.
Responding to a question about police action against Ramdev and his followers at Delhi’s Ramlila ground in the middle of the night, Singh said it was unfortunate but he did not see any alternative.
If action had been taken the next day there would have been larger crowds, he said.
Asked if Hazare was naive or politically motivated, the Prime Minister said it was not good to question the motives of those government is negotiating with.
Asserting that his government was committed to pursuing whatever was feasible to deal with blackmoney, tax evasion and corruption, the Prime Minister said it was nevertheless not a “one-shot operation”.
He acknowledged that the telecom scam, the CWG scam and other perceived cases of corruption had caused genuine concern to the middle class whom he assured that the guilty would be punished.
In his opening remarks, the Prime Minister said there was a growing perception in the media that the government was under a siege and not able to implement its agenda.
He then went on to hit out at the role of the media for having become “accuser, prosecutor and the judge”. No parliamentary democracy could function in that manner.
About foreign relations, the Prime Minister said India lived in a very uncertain neighbourhood and a very uncertain international economic environment.
On Pakistan, he said that the action taken by it so far on dealing with terror emanating from its soil was not satisfactory but India had to keep that country engaged.
He said that terror should never be used as a state policy. Terror groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) were offshoots of ISI.
Asked about the possibility of his visiting Pakistan, Singh said they were keen about it but there must be something solid to achieve.
About China, he said that the Indian media should not sensationalise differences with that country. He had dealt with the present leadership of President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao whom he regards as men of peace.
At the same time, the Prime Minister said India could not compromise on the issue of Arunachal Pradesh to which China lays claim and on river systems.