While the economy was back on track, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said growth did not take place in a political vacuum. In this context, he identified three issues of particular concern. “First and foremost, I am told in a few days' time you will [see the] judgment of the Babri Masjid [title suit]. Now the way the country handles this — the aftermath — will have a profound impact on the evolution of our country. Then the same way — I think the way we handle the Kashmir problem, the way we handle the Naxalite problem.” If the country didn't manage “the divisiveness, the communalist elements … caste tension … I think there could be problems for India.”
In an interaction with a small group of editors at his residence on Monday, Dr. Singh said he was proposing to call the Cabinet Committee on Security later this week “to discuss threadbare” the Kashmir problem.
“No instant solution”
“I cannot promise you that I have an instant solution, I cannot produce rabbits out of my hat. It will be a problem of experimentation and the country must learn to be patient.”
Not being patient could sometimes “lead to pathways which may later on prove to be counterproductive,” he warned.
The problem of Naxalism required a two-pronged strategy where underdevelopment and poverty were tackled even as law and order was restored. Here, he again emphasised the wider economic implications. “After all, the Naxalite areas happen to be those areas which are the heartland of India's mineral wealth. Now, if we are not allowed to exploit the mineral resources of this country, I think the growth path of this country could be adversely affected.”
The Prime Minister also stressed the need to find a “new balance” between the environment and industry. “Environmental issues are important, they cannot be wished away,” he said.
“We must adequately ensure that whether it is tribal rights, environmental concerns or forest concerns, they are given their appropriate place. But at the same time there has to be a balance. You cannot protect the environment of this country by perpetuating poverty.”
Asked whether he was calling for a new balance in the light of the government's recent decision to shelve Vedanta's mining plans at Niyamgiri in Orissa, Dr. Singh said he was speaking in general terms and not with reference to any individual project.
The Prime Minister said he would soon convene a meeting of the Ministers of environment, coal, surface transport and other infrastructure related ministries to find a “new pathway” for ensuring environmental and development imperatives do not come in the way of each other.
At the same time, he denied the existence of multiple voices within his government was a sign of drift or discordance. “We are a democracy. The Congress itself is a movement and within the Congress party, this is not today — I think right from the days of Jawaharlal Nehru, there have been differences of opinion and they have been allowed to be expressed in party fora, even within the Government. So, I do not think the expression of differences on the part of Ministers or on the part of party functionaries is necessarily a bad thing.”
Dr. Singh said his Cabinet “has functioned with a degree of cohesion that I believe no other Cabinet has functioned ... I ask each one of our senior colleagues to express their views, and then I sum up the consensus.” He added that this Cabinet has functioned with a much greater degree of cohesion than the Cabinet under Jawaharlal Nehru. “I think there were daily differences, exchange of letters between Sardar Patel and Panditji. And in [Indira] Gandhi's Cabinet for example, when Morarji was the Deputy PM, journalists could go from one Cabinet Minister to another Cabinet Minister and hear different kinds of stories. That I can say is not happening.”