New Delhi: Rejecting reports of a disconnect between the Congress party and his government, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday made it clear that he was not thinking of retiring and indicated that he would "look at options" of a Cabinet reshuffle before the winter session of Parliament beginning Nov 7.
A characteristically gentle but firm Prime Minister
made it clear that there was no "drift" in the government.
"Allowing people to express their views is not necessarily
a sign of drift," he said.
In an 80-minute interaction with a group of editors at
his official residence here, Singh indicated that he would
"look at" options of a Cabinet reshuffle prior to the next
Parliament session beginning Nov 7. "I would like to reduce
the average age of my Cabinet."
The Prime Minister`s remarks came in the backdrop of
perceptions in the media and political circles that there was
a disconnect between him and the Congress and criticism that
his ministers were openly airing their differences with each
Allowing for diversity of opinions, the Prime Minister said it was necessary for the Cabinet and the government to function with a "certain degree of cohesion".
He saw nothing wrong in the expression of different
points of view by his ministers and Congress functionaries
because India was a democracy. Moreover, the Congress was a
mass movement in which people express their views, he said.
Expression of differing view points was "not
necessarily a bad thing". It was necessary, however, that the
Cabinet and the government functioned with a "certain degree
of cohesion", Singh said.
"I can`t say I will shut up every colleague," he stressed. Issues are debated and ministers abide by the decisions taken thereafter, he said, adding that during his six years in power his cabinet had met almost every week.
"My own concern is that if we come across any instance
in my Council of Ministers, where I think serious issues of
corruption are involved, I will take action. I have an
obligation to take action and I will do that," he said.
He then went on to refer to the allocation of Spectrum
in which Telecom Minister A Raja allegations and said, "I did
take adequate precaution. It is true that the public
perception in some circles at least is that I did not
"But I am quite clear in my mind I did take account of
what was appearing in the media where the conduct of a
particular minister was being questioned. Now the matter
is still sub-judice. I would not like to comment on that."
He underlined that his Cabinet functioned
with a "much greater degree of cohesion" than even the first
Cabinet headed by Jawaharlal Nehru.
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, he pointed
During Mrs. Gandhi`s time a group of "Young Turks" led
by Chandrashekhar openly constituted a dissident group, the
Prime Minister said during the interaction that turned into a
virtual press conference covering major domestic political
issues, economy and foreign policy.
A questioner suggested that he gave "an impression
of marking time with the issue of succession in your party"
while Rahul Gandhi was "spreading wings" and that he may not
not complete his tenure.
Singh responded with a chuckle, "I think politics is a
competitive game and some people or politicians feel that they
should not be in the Opposition but they should be in the
place where I am sitting. I don`t think you can hold that
The Prime Minister answered questions on the recent
Supreme Court order that foodgrains must be distributed free
to the poor instead of being allowed to rot in the open, the
Naxal problem, state of the economy, Kashmir situation and on
He made it clear that it would not be possible to
distribute foodgrains free to the poor and suggested that the
apex court should not go into the realm of policy
On Kashmir, Singh said a meeting of the Cabinet
Committee on Security (CCS) headed by him would be held later
this week to discuss the issue "threadbare".
About the Naxal problem, he said it was "more menacing
than ever before" and required to be tackled in two ways--
addressing valid economic and social issues and also enforcing
law and order.
"I think, quite frankly, there is no royal road to
success in dealing either Naxalism or the intricate problems
in Jammu and Kashmir," he said.
Admitting that there had been
lapses and delays in preparing for the Commonwealth games
here, Singh said that everyone
must now work together to ensure the success of the
Instead of finding fault at this stage, everyone must
work together so that "we are proud" of hosting the games, he
told a group of editors here.