No disconnect between govt and Congress party: PM

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said it was necessary for the Cabinet and the government to function with a "certain degree of cohesion".

New Delhi: Rejecting perceptions that there was a disconnect between his government and the Congress party, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Monday that expression of different view points was not "necessarily a bad thing".

He did not see anything wrong in ministers and party functionaries expressing different points of view because the Congress party itself was a movement within which there have been differences of opinion as happens in a democracy.

However, it was necessary for the Cabinet and the government to function with a "certain degree of cohesion" and his Cabinet had functioned with a "much greater degree of
cohesion" than even the first Cabinet headed by Jawaharlal Nehru, Singh told a group of editors at his residence here.

He pointed out that there was almost daily exchange of letters between Nehru and his deputy Sardar Patel. There were differences between Indira Gandhi and her deputy Morarji Desai.

During Mrs Gandhi`s time a group of "Young Turks" led by Chandrashekhar openly constituted a dissident group, he said during the 80-minute interaction that turned into a
virtual press conference covering domestic political issues, economy and foreign policy.

Prime Minister emphasised that he was not aware of anything that could constitute a disconnect between the Congress party and the government. "Allowing people to express views is not necessarily a sign of drift," he said.

"I can`t say I will shut up every colleague," he said, at the same time thanking his Cabinet colleagues for their fullest support.

The Prime Minister made it clear that he was not thinking of retiring and indicated that he would "look at options" of a Cabinet reshuffle before the next session of Parliament beginning Nov 7.

"I would like to reduce the average age of my Cabinet," he said with a chuckle.

Singh said that during his six years in power his
Cabinet had met almost every week. Issues are debated and
ministers abide by the decisions taken thereafter.

When a questioner suggested that it appeared his
government was "marking time" while Rahul Gandhi was
"spreading his wings", the Prime Minister laughed it away. In
any case politics was a competitive game, he said.

He agreed with Rahul Gandhi`s view that there are two
Indias. The inequality of income and wealth was a fact of
life and the gap between the rich and the poor had to be
bridged, he said.

The Prime Minister listed the Naxal problem, Kashmir
situation and the forthcoming judgement in the Babri Masjid
case as some of the top issues that would have a bearing on
how India would shape in the years ahead.

About the Naxal problem, he said that it was one of the
greatest security challenges to which there was no "quick
fix". He favoured a two-pronged approach of addressing valid
economic and social reasons behind the problem and at the same
time enforcing law and order.

With regard to Kashmir, Singh disclosed that he was
calling a meeting of Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS) later
this week to discuss "threadbare" how to tackle the situation.

"I can`t promise you that I can produce a rabbit out of
my hat ....the country must learn to be patient," he said.

Answering a question about allegations of corruption
against some of his ministers which had "sullied" the
government`s image, the Prime Minister said that corruption
constituted a major challenge for India`s polity. But every
opponent cannot be condemned as being corrupt.

He promised action in regard to serious allegations of
corruption in the Cabinet.

Singh said that with regard to allocation of Spectrum
in which Telecom Minister A Raja is facing allegations "I took
adequate precaution and took note of what appeared in the
media". He declined to comment any further saying that the
matter was sub-judice.