New Delhi: Talking tough, a confident Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Wednesday, dismissed suggestions that his was a lame duck government, while also making it clear that he, personally, had no problem to bring his office under the purview of the Lokpal.
Interacting with senior editors from the print media at 7 Race Course Road, the Prime Minister agreed that there is a perception that his government is weak, but emphatically stressed that it was being wrongly conjured that way.
He was quoted as saying: “I will not carry on as a lame duck Prime Minister unless I am in the command,” adding, “it is a clever propaganda by the Opposition”.
The editors after the meeting said they too found the PM confident and very much in-charge. They added that the PM did not evade any issue including the various corruption scandals.
He was forthright in his admission that there had been lapses, but refused to take the full blame saying it was not possible for a PM to look into each and every matter and that some unfortunate errors are highlighted only when seen in the hindsight.
On his overall performance, the Prime Minister gave himself between 5-7 points on a scale of ten. He felt that he was doing a better job than was being projected. He felt that all good work being done was being overshadowed by a few matters which the media was constantly raking up. In that sense, a deliberate negativity about his government was being spread.
No differences between govt-party
Manmohan Singh also categorically rejected reports about difference of opinion between the government and the Congress party. He said that he meets party president Sonia Gandhi frequently to discuss important issues and that there is absolutely no problems between them.
“I have got maximum cooperation from Sonia Gandhi who has done a superb job as Congress president,” he said.
On the issue of Rahul Gandhi being a prospective prime ministerial, Manmohan Singh said that
he has no objection to Rahul becoming the PM, but the matter has not been discussed by the party. He added that not only had the matter not come up, it was also not for his government to decide.
With regards to the impending Cabinet reshuffle, he said that it is a "work in progress", while refusing to disclose when it will take place. He only said, the reshuffle was “coming soon”.
Lokpal & Ramdev
The contentious issue of the Lokpal Bill also came up during the interaction. Speaking his mind on the issue, the Prime Minister said that he, personally, doesn’t mind putting himself under Lokpal, but the Cabinet differs from his view.
“I have no hesitation in bringing myself under the purview of the Lokpal, but many of my Cabinet colleagues feel that bringing the institution of Prime Minister under it will create instability,” Singh said.
Hence, he will discuss the matter with all UPA members, opposition and members of the civil society and take them into confidence before arriving at a conclusion.
On the larger issue of ensuring a strong Lokpal Bill is enacted, the Prime Minister while accepting the need for the same argued that although it is not a panacea, the government will find a way out on Lokpal and try for a consensus.
The Prime Minister is believed to have been respectful towards both Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev, when the issue was brought up by the editors. He said that he empathised with the issues they were raising and had personally met the two in separate meetings.
He however was critical of the type of pressure tactics being employed by the civil society members, he said, “Government will reach out to civil society but no group can insist that their views are the last word.”
Manmohan Singh also reiterated that the police action against Ramdev's supporters at Ramlila Maidan was unfortunate but stressed that “there was no alternative.”
Importantly, he revealed that ministers went to the airport to escort Ramdev on his orders.
He was also asked about the “bugging” row surrounding Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s office, to which he said that Mukherjee had complained to him about suspected bugging of his offices and he had ordered Intelligence Bureau to investigate. but it is a closed chapter
Although the PM’s media outreach was meant to dispel the widespread impression that the Prime Minister has been unusually quiet, and possibly avoiding the public glare, Manmohan Singh was critical of the media and said that it has become "accuser, prosecutor and judge".
First Published: Thursday, June 30, 2011, 10:30