Speaking to the country via a televised media interaction, his first since a host of scams have come to light over the past few months, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday gave an assurance that his government was “dead serious in bringing to book all wrongdoers.” But even as he repeated his commitment to punish the guilty, Dr. Singh refused to accept any personal responsibility for the policy decisions that led to the 2G spectrum and S-Band scams.
Pressed on whether he absolved himself completely, the Prime Minister blamed his coalition partners. “No one should doubt that I am conscious of my responsibilities. But I have some compulsions. One has to tolerate a great deal in coalition politics, or else go for elections every six months, which is also not the proper course to adopt.”
Later, he said: “I have never said I have never made a mistake…,” and then added, with a weak smile, “I am not as much of a culprit as I am being made out.”
The Prime Minister also used his hour-long interaction with editors of television channels to slam the Opposition and chide the media for creating the impression of a “scam-driven country,” something that was “weakening the self-confidence of the people” and spoiling the “image of India.”
“In reporting the affairs of our nation, we mustn't focus excessively on the negative features, important though it is that the government should deal with them,” he said.
Dr. Singh was, however, very clear that he was “not afraid of appearing before any committee, including a JPC [the proposed Joint Parliamentary Committee to examine the 2G spectrum scam].” Indeed, he stressed that there was a wrong impression that he had blocked an agreement on a JPC.
He added that he had also never felt like quitting even though things were not entirely the way he would have wished them to be. “I never felt like resigning because I have a job to do. The country voted our party to be the leader of the coalition, and we have a lot of unfinished business to accomplish...I will stay the course.”
While the scams the government had got engulfed in were his biggest regret, its biggest achievement was that it had ensured, despite a very unfavourable international economic environment, that the Indian economy's growth rhythm was not grossly affected, he said.
The news conference was intended to clear the air on the issue of corruption and present a strong and confident Prime Minister. But his answers on the scale of the 2G scam — in the light of Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal's controversial claim that there had been “zero loss” — suggested a continuing unwillingness to concede that there had been wrongdoing on a massive scale.