Mounting a counterattack on the opposition, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said there were forces trying to “destabilise the country’s political system and the government”, but the UPA would finish its five-year term.
Refusing to elaborate on the forces, Singh asserted that the opposition’s attacks and the “recent events” had more to it than the performance of this government.A smiling Singh dismissed the opposition onslaught on him and his government as "premature restlessness". "We have a mandate for five years. They cannot force an early election. This is not the way."
The BJP took offence to Singh’s contention, saying it was akin to making a mockery of the whole issue. “The Prime Minister’s statement is deeply regrettable and unfortunate. While we are demanding a probe in the issue, he has said the opposition wants early polls,” BJP chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
Singh returned to India on Tuesday after six days abroad and is expected to meet finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and home minister P Chidambaram on Wednesday, presumably on the controversy over the finance ministry note that triggered a controversy. The note sent to the PMO suggesting lapses on the part of Chidambaram in handling the allocation of 2G spectrum had hit the government when Singh was away.
The PM said, “Issues that are being raised now happened during our first term and we have won an election after that.”
Dismissing suggestions of a rift among his ministers, he said, “Ministers can have their respective views. When we debate, we do so with an open mind. There is no basis to what is written about Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram.”
Singh admitted his government had failed in managing the public perception about it. “We must focus more sharply on managing perception. I keep telling this to my colleagues.”
Unhappy with the government’s information management system, Singh had recently constituted a group of ministers on media. Singh said he was not thinking of a cabinet reshuffle right now.
During Singh’s absence, Mukherjee and Chidambaram met Congress president Sonia Gandhi separately on Monday to explain their positions. Chidambaram explained how he had consistently supported auction, Mukherjee focussed on the prime minister’s office and not the finance ministry, putting the note in public domain.
Pranab is also learnt to have made it clear that the note was drafted jointly by various wings of the government, including the PMO and the cabinet secretariat, rather than just his ministry.
A PMO official dismissed suggestions that documents were not covered under the right to information. “RTI is the law of the land and we had to abide by it.”
What’s more, acknowledging that he had removed pricing from the purview of an empowered group of ministers on spectrum, following a demand from then telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran, Singh said it had not affected anything that was “essential and integral to the process” of the EGoM. (Inputs from Delhi)