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You've come a long way Prime Minister

Manmohan Singh has lost his trademark shyness. And sounds more of a politician now than he was at his first 'national' press meet.

india Updated: Feb 04, 2006 19:49 IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has lost his trademark shyness. And sounds a bit more of a politician now than he was at his first 'national' press conference. Blame it on the mindbending compulsions of running a coalition.

Questions flew thick and fast on Wednesday. He was quizzed on the power balance between the PMO and 10 Janpath, Shibu Soren's return to the cabinet, the Quattrocchi affair and the BJP's less-than-healthy regard for him. And with the Iran issue and the Left's overbearing intervention in policy matters being the running theme in the 90-minute Q&A session, the PM could easily have lost his cool.

But he didn't, twice insisting that he'd last his full term, that it wasn't yet time to go to the people for a fresh mandate. There was no hyperbolic praise of Sonia Gandhi or a below-the-belt punch at the opposition.

If I'm a weak PM then how strong was Advani when he went to Jinnah's mausoleum and had to resign as party president because the RSS didn't like it She (Sonia Gandhi) is for me a source of strength, not weakness. I will probably be less effective in many of the tasks she has to perform as UPA chairperson and Congress president We do not believe in confiscatory taxation regime.

Our taxes would be broad-based and modest...

Rome was not built in one day. Same is the case with our finances

Who's more powerful, the PM or the UPA chairperson? The reply was understatement typical of a seasoned politico: "She is for me a source of strength, not weakness. I will probably be less effective in many of the tasks she has to perform as UPA chairperson and Congress president." There couldn't perhaps have been a better way of showing deference to the party chief without diluting the import of the office he holds.

The PM stuck to form again when asked whether he was mentoring Rahul Gandhi, who accompanied him to Afghanistan. "I want all our younger MPs... to take more interest in management of public affairs and the party."

Singh kept his equanimity when asked why he made Buta Singh resign and not sack his home minister or quit himself after the Supreme Court judgment in the Bihar House dissolution case. The politician in him showed clearly as he, after making known his respect for the judges' wisdom, said that even the court gave a split 3:2 verdict. Maintaining that the advantage of hindsight the judiciary had, was not available to his government, he argued that administrative actions were based on the material available at a giv en point of time.

As for the SC notice to the Speaker on the expulsion of MPs, the PM said all the constitutional functionaries have an obligation to ensure the success of the country's multilayered constitutional system.

He saved the best for the BJP's charge that he was a "weak" PM who held the office but not the reins of power. Citing his government's success in maintaining an employment generating 7 per cent plus growth rate, he said he'd be judged by his work, not what L.K. Advani says or thinks of him: "The proof of the pudding lies in the eating."

The PM delivered the second punch when reminded that the BJP declared him a "fugitive" from Parliament when Soren was on the run from the law. "I've done nothing to deserve such epithets. If I'm a weak PM then how strong was Advani when he went to Jinnah's mausoleum and had to resign as party president because the RSS didn't like it," he said.

However, on the seemingly fastidious Left, Singh turned philosophical. He said pressures inherent in a coalition did not block the pace of development: "I see it as part of a process of introspection."

First Published: Feb 04, 2006 19:18 IST