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Manmohan Singh speaks

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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during an interaction with the Senior Editors in New Delhi on Wednesday

The Prime Minister met with a small group of newspaper editors yesterday. Here is the report from ET:

[T]he prime minister said he was open to the idea of younger people taking the baton. “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.” In other words, he is very much in charge and that the talks of succession are premature.

On the wrangling with the civil society activists over the transparency legislation, the prime minister made it amply clear that the government cannot be expected to sign on dotted lines. He said that the government would reach out to the activists but “no group can insist that their views were the last word”. While backing the bill, Singh said it was both essential and desirable. “The country needed a strong Lokpal although it is not a panacea,” he said.

On the issue of bringing the institution of the Prime Minister under Lokpal, Singh said he had no reservations on the matter “but many of my Cabinet colleagues feel this will create instability”. 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 he would like to be “guided” by political parties on this issue. Prime minister also recalled that Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa and her Punjab counterpart Parkash Singh Badal had expressed their views that this office should be kept out of the Lokpal’s purview.

The Hindu added:

Taking on the media, Parliament and even the CAG — whose reports on massive irregularities in the telecom and hydrocarbon sectors have put the UPA on the back foot — Dr. Singh argued that these institutions had the benefit of considering ‘post-facto’ developments, whereas government decisions were taken in a “world of uncertainty and ex-facto.” He attacked the “atmosphere of cynicism … created all round” by the constant accusations of corruption and said this would discourage “the entrepreneurial impulses of our people.” “So, we must create in this country an environment in which governments, Ministers and civil servants will not be discouraged from taking decisions in the national interest when all facts are not known, … will never be known.”

At the first in a series of exchanges planned with the media, the theme song of the Prime Minister was that an “atmosphere” was created in the country that the government was under siege and complained that this was largely being fuelled by the media. “The role of the media today in many cases has become that of the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge,” he bemoaned.

The Nation (Pakistan) noted:

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday said Pakistan had not done enough to curb terror emanating from its soil but India’s western neighbour needed to be engaged in peace talks.

“We are not a big player in Pakistan. But whatever our role, engagement is a commitment to our shared geography,” Manmohan Singh said in his interaction with a group of Indian editors.

Asked his comments about the current situation in Pakistan and if he was undertaking a visit to that country anytime soon, he said: “They have not done enough on terror. I still feel they need to do more. We need to keep engaging them.”

To a question on Kashmir, Singh said: “We have to be on our guard. We hope Pakistan will leave Kashmir alone, because they have their own share of internal problems. Tourists are returning. We have to keep our fingers crossed.”

About US pullout from Afghanistan, Singh said “It does hurt us. It could hurt us. No one knows what is going to happen in Afghanistan. Yesterday, I was talking to the New Zealand Prime Minister, the war in Afghanistan does not enjoy large-scale public support. That’s the reality.”

The Indian Prime Minister alleged although Pakistan continues to say that it does not provide state support to terrorism, but he said he doesn’t have “full trust about whatever that is happening within Pakistani army and government”.

At the same time, Singh asserted that it was “in the healthy interest of India that Pakistan retains democracy and there is no tension (in relations)”.

The press is very concerned with the issue of the Lokpal. HT covers the ground again:

The issue of bringing the PM within the Lokpal’s ambit was discussed in the Cabinet last year. “I for one, have no hesitation in bringing myself under the purview. But there are Cabinet colleagues who said Sir this is not your personal concern…it is about the institution,” Singh said.

The prime minister said the serving judges and other legal experts had “grave reservations” on bringing the higher judiciary under the lokpal’s ambit. “The Supreme Court has to ultimately pronounce on everything. How will it pronounce on complex issues, if it is subject to restrictions of lokpal?” Singh observed.

TOI reported on the PM’s response to questions about the 2G scam:

He said as Prime Minister he had to trust his minister when he promised to abide by rules. “How can I conduct a post-mortem? I am not an expert in telecom ministers. As Prime Minister, it is not that I am very knowledgeable about these matters. Or, that I can spend so much of my time, to look after each and every ministry.”

Singh also criticized Raja for wrongly claiming that he had PM’s endorsement. “One observation that my private secretary recorded, that the PM says that there must be transparency-the minister should have said that it was his responsibility-rather than saying that the Prime Minister has also endorsed it.”

When told that the government failed to take notice of newspaper reports about the irregularities in the allocation of 2G licences and spectrum, PM said that he could not have gone by newspaper reports alone.” There were people on both sides writing to me. If I go by the newspapers everyday, I would have to refer everything to CBI, and the CBI would sit in judgement. And if I continued in this vein, our public sector would not be able to perform. It would greatly weaken the (entrepreneurial forces) that have unleashed, and willy nilly install a police raj”.

The Chandigarh Tribune informs us about the PM’s statements on development:

To a question by The Tribune about the doubts of the longevity of the UPA Government with the coalition showing signs of cracking up, the Prime Minister’s answer showed that his political instincts remained well-honed. He said, “There are some points of tension. But I am confident that no one wants an election at this time. Therefore, the self-preservation instinct will work towards our advantage. And we can manage these tensions of the coalition.”

About the reform process and whether the UPA Government would be able to sustain it, the Prime Minister appeared clear as to what the priorities where. He said, “The first thing is basically to sustain the momentum of growth that we have built. The second thrust is on infrastructure and to ensure that it is managed well. It is in this context that the procurement system in the public sector must be made more transparent. We are working towards a law in public procurement, which will lay more emphasis on transparency. Then there are newer issues that have arisen with regard to management of scarce natural resources, particularly the land question. The Land Acquisition Bill requires modification. It is also my hope that we would soon have a working draft of the Food Security Bill. And with regard to education and rural health, we have a large agenda. We have to start a system of vocational educational and skill formation.” He wanted the Opposition to stop playing politics and to help the government pass certain vital bills like the Goods and Service Tax Bill and also the bill to increase the share of FDI for insurance firms and also for the retail sector.

Another article in ET quoted the PM on economic growth:

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday expressed concern over the state of the global economy , especially the faltering recovery in the US and developments in the Middle East, but said India must and will swim against these adverse tides.

“On the international front the situation is not that positive. The international global recovery is fragile. Even the United States growth rate is faltering,” Manmohan Singh said in his opening remarks during an interactive session with editors of select publications.

The prime minister said some of the economic events including the sovereign debt crisis in Euro zone countries like Greece and political turmoil in the Middle East, from where India sourced 70 percent of its oil supplies, could pose challenges to the country’s growth story.

But he added that India had the right macro-economic foundation to grow at a rate of 9-10 percent.

“We showed that in 2008 when most people believed that our financial system would also be a victim of the global financial crisis.”

The prime minister said that the country was a large market and if reforms like the Goods and Services Tax could be implemented, trade within the country itself would add to the tempo of growth.

“If we can put in place the Goods and Services Tax legislation and if we can remove barriers to interstate commerce, that itself will create new opportunities internally for accelerating the tempo of growth.”

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