A press conference is, by definition, a place where questions are asked by members of the media and duly tackled. It’s not a platform where you expect a prime minister to address the nation and provide either a report card of his administration or make a policy statement. Keeping this in mind, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s handling of questions posed to him by the media on Monday mirrored his government: calm, confident and confirmatory.
Responding to queries, Mr Singh spoke about price rise, pointing out that he saw inflation figures coming down to 5-6 per cent by December from the current 8-9 per cent; about reaching out to Pakistan, with which he believed that “the best possible relations” are necessary if India is to realise its full developmental potential; about Maoist violence, which he reiterated is the biggest security challenge facing the nation; and about his relations with Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, disappointing those who somehow expected him to say something other than what he said about having “no difference of opinion” with her.
Mr Singh gave a straightforward reply to the query, “Do you see yourself retiring and giving Rahul Gandhi a chance to become prime minister of the country?” He said that the question of his retirement did not arise as his job was not done yet, and that Mr Gandhi could join his cabinet whenever the Congress and Mr Gandhi himself thought he was ready. That this has become the headline-grabber tells the story of the media’s penchant for manufacturing excitement out of a ho-hum interaction.
Mr Singh’s deflection of questions related to the issues of Telangana, a caste-based census and alleged corruption charges against Telecommunications Minister A. Raja are being criticised. Speaking about a committee, consensus and investigation respectively, Mr Singh showcased the politician that he has matured into. But what was of greater import than these incremental matters was the fact that issues like agricultural slowdown and how the government intends to counter the Maoist menace were left unscrutinised. For those who expected more out of Monday’s interaction, it was a straightlaced question-answer session that brought nothing new to the surface. Which possibly points to a media frustrated at dealing with a government less keen on loud rhetorical gestures and more on doing its job over tea and biscuits.