Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, addressing his first major press conference in his second tenure at the head of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, dismissed speculation that he may not complete his full term in office.
“The task I have been given remains unfinished,” he said, replying to a question on whether he was heading towards retirement. “Till I finish these tasks, there is no question of my retirement,” he said firmly. But he qualified this by saying that he sometimes felt younger people should take over: “[When] the Congress makes that judgment, I would be very happy to make place for anybody the Congress may choose.”
Asked when Rahul Gandhi would join his Cabinet, Dr. Singh said: “When he is ready to join… he would be a very, very appropriate addition.” He said his many invitations to the young Congress general secretary had received the same response — he wanted to focus on reviving the Congress.
Dismissing reports of differences with Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Dr. Singh said: “She is the president of the Congress. I am a Congressman... there is no question of there being a…gap between me and the Congress president when it comes to doing things which our government should be doing.” Rather, he was “very fortunate” in receiving her “constant advice and guidance” during their weekly meetings. Besides, there were several “effective coordination mechanisms,” to mediate between the government and the party. Rejecting the description of the Sonia Gandhi-headed National Advisory Council (NAC) as a “super cabinet,” he said it was “an advisory body” which had helped push forward the government's social equity agenda.
Stressing that Ministers should refrain from airing their differences publicly, Dr. Singh pointed out that the Cabinet met often enough — weekly — to provide them with a platform to express their views. He, however, clarified that he was not issuing a gag order: “I welcome a dialogue between Ministers… We are a democracy… it is very important we should take advantage of the diverse opinion that may exist in a country as large, as complex… as India is.” Ministers should only remember that matters which were before the Cabinet should be “first taken up in the Cabinet itself.”
Refusing to get embroiled in Home Minister P. Chidambaram's “limited mandate” remark on dealing with the Maoists, Dr. Singh merely said: “He has explained what he meant by his having a limited mandate.”
Asked whether he missed the support of the Left parties, Dr. Singh quipped: “Well, if wishes were horses, even beggars would ride. I know it cannot become a reality.” But he invited all “likeminded political parties” to join the UPA “in carrying forward this process of sustained and equitable development.”