Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should be chuffed with himself after his question-and-answer session with broadcast editors on Wednesday morning. If he didn’t come across as throwing light on the various mysteries the nation is currently trying to unravel, no one expected him to be anything more than explanatory.
His usual strategy of bludgeoning ‘probing’ questions with longish, deadpan replies worked remarkably well in an interaction that saw much confirmation and few declarations. But even in the rather flat pitch on which Mr Singh played his customary forward defensive shots, there were couple of ‘statements’ that stood out against the genteel display of politesse.
One, Mr Singh admitted candidly that his government needs to “improve the quality of governance”. More than the promise of bringing the corrupt to book — which prime minister would say otherwise? — it was Mr Singh’s admission of a ‘governance deficit’ that made us sit up and take note of the fact that the prime minister is, thankfully, not in denial.
Mr Singh’s gentle tutorial to the editors about the need of the media “not to focus excessively on negative features” was on the charming side of affairs. His insistence on calling the various cases of governmental corruption ‘aberrations’ is a matter of opinion. But he buttressed this ‘defence’ by reiterating that he is willing to be questioned by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) looking into the 2G scam, adding for ears that cared to latch on to a subtext that he was willing to even face a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC).
His response to a question about his alleged ‘inaction’ against former telecom minister A Raja was public knowledge. But it was helpful, coming as it did straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth.
The PM’s comments on curbing inflation without hurting growth, the government now being “better prepared to deal with acts of terror”, the turbulent situation in the North-east and Jammu and Kashmir being “under control”, the observation that India’s status on the global stage being reflected by leaders of all the five permanent members of the UN Security Council visiting India in quick succession, and the insistence that his government has not lost the “will for reforms” were checklisted one by one.
On the political front, Mr Singh anti-climactically responded to a query about whether he would step down as prime minister, brushing aside the non sequitur about him being the UPA’s prime ministerial candidate for the next general elections.
On the whole, the diwan-e-khas may have been short on big ticket statements. But the fact that we heard the prime minister respond — rather than his many interlocutors respond on his behalf — to various questions pertaining to these ‘aberrational’ times is to be welcomed.
We would request Mr Singh to make such interactions at least an annual habit.