Admitting that “some compromises” have to be made in managing a coalition, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday declared that his government will bring the wrongdoers in scams to book but ruled out quitting from his post.
He asserted that his government was not lame duck nor was he a lame duck Prime Minister and it was a functioning government that would go after scamsters.
On the 2G scam involving former Telecom Minister A. Raja, the Prime Minister said concerns were expressed but he did not press for auction after Ministries of Telecom and Finance agreed to go by the prevailing practice of not auctioning the spectrum which was also supported by expert bodies like TRAI and Telecom Commission.
About re-induction of Mr. Raja despite complaints, he said in a coalition, it was not in his hands about whom to be inducted from a coalition partner. “You cannot suggest your preferences and you have to go by the choice of the leader of the party.
“Raja and Dayanidhi Maran were the choice of the DMK and I had no reason to feel that anything seriously wrong has been done. I did not feel that I had the authority to object to Raja’s entry although complaints were coming from some companies who were not benefitted and some who had not benefitted adequately. I was not in a position to make up my mind about Raja,” he said.
The Prime Minister said “in a coalition, there is a coalition dharma. Obviously, things are not entirely what I would like them to be. I never felt like resigning as I have a job to do.
“The country voted our party to be the leader of the UPA coalition and we have lot of unfinished tasks to be accomplished. I have never felt of giving up halfway. I will stay the course. I never thought of resigning,” he told television editors at an interaction here.
During the 70-minute interaction, the Prime Minister fielded a wide range of questions covering mainly issues of corruption including the ISRO’s deal on S-band spectrum, governance deficit, economy and the Parliament standoff.
Dr. Singh also made it clear that he was not afraid of facing any Parliamentary committee including a JPC on 2G scam.
He said all efforts were being made and talks were on with opposition to ensure smooth budget session of Parliament.
‘Not that big a culprit as being made out to be’
“I don’t say I have never made any mistake. But I am not that big a culprit as being made out to be,” he said in reply to a question whether he would accept personal responsibility as head of the government for whatever has happened in the government.
“I am conscious about personal responsibility. I feel about it. My compulsion is that I have to bear a lot because we cannot have elections every six months. Some compromises have to be made in managing a coalition. A coalition government has to be viewed in a context that no single party has emerged to rule by itself,” he said.
In his opening remarks, the Prime Minister referred to the media expose of various scams including the Commonwealth Games, the ISRO deal, Adarsh Housing affairs but asked the media not to give an image that India was a scam-driven country and nothing good was happening.
He said that such an image would weaken the self-confidence of the people and it would not be in the interest of the country.
“I wish to assure the country as a whole that our government is dead serious about bringing to book all wrongdoers regardless of the position they occupy,” he said.
To a question what was his biggest regret in UPA-II, Dr. Singh said that “these irregularities have happened. They should not have happened. I am not very happy about these developments“.
He virtually disagreed with the CAG calculations on the loss figure in the 2G scam saying the CAG itself had called it presumptive.
There are various methods of computing the figures, he said and went on to question whether the Rs. 80,000 crore being spent on foodgrain subsidy, Rs. 60,000 crore on fertilisers and subsidy on kerosene could be called as loss.
He was replying to a question whether he agreed with Telecom minister Kapil Sibal’s description of zero loss in the 2G scam.
On governance deficit
To a question on Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s comments on governance deficit, he admitted, “obviously, some events have brought out the weaknesses in governance and processes, I think we need to improve the quality of governance. But that does not divide me and other members of the government.”
He rejected a questioner’s suggestion that his government was facing double-incumbency of attacks from the opposition and within the party.
“I do not get that impression (party not backing him). In a democracy, there are views and discussions and when decisions are taken, our party stands united in support of the government.
“I would like a cohesive party to support the government but I am not saying it is not happening,” he said.
To a specific question whether he would be ready to be projected as Prime Ministerial candidate in the next elections, Dr. Singh said “it is too early. We still have a long way to go. I have to complete this term. It is too premature to speculate who would be the Prime Ministerial candidate.”
He was asked whether he was feeling bad as certain embarrassing things were happening which were not in tune with his nature.
“I have looked upon life as a learning and re-learning process. It has been a great educational experience from civil service to academic world to political world. This process of learning, I relish that”, he replied.
On Cabinet reshuffle
When told that he was an honest Prime Minister surrounded by dishonest administration and a sense of drift was prevailing, he said after the Budget Session, there will be a restructuring and reshuffling of his Cabinet.
“I will get back to the exercise once the Budget Session is over”, he said.
Asked whether the government would agree to the JPC on 2G scam, he said “full efforts are being undertaken to see that some way will be found (to ensure that Parliament functions). I hope it will happen.”
When a questioner asked whether he was ready for a JPC and whether it was not being formed because he was reluctant appear before it, he said “my position is that I am not afraid of appearing before any committee. The PAC is a joint parliamentary committee, presided over a senior member of the opposition.
“I am fully prepared to appear before any committee including a JPC. It is entirely wrong for an impression to go that I was the one blocking it because I am afraid of appearing before it. My conduct as a Prime Minister must be like Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion. I am ready to appear before any committee”, he said.
To a question about any rift within the UPA and whether it would continue together, he said as far as the coalition was concerned, “ours is a strong coalition and our allies are strongly committed to strengthening the alliance. There is no danger that inner tensions might break up this coalition“.
On Antrix-Devas deal
On the controversial deal between Antrix, the commercial arm of ISRO and a private firm Devas for allocation of S-band spectrum, Dr. Singh said the deal has not been operationalised and the Cabinet Committee on Security would soon take a decision on terminating it, a decision on which was taken on July two last year.
He also rebutted reports that the PMO was involved in back channel discussions as late as November last year with Devas even as a decision was taken to terminate it.
“I have not talked to anybody... The PMO has not talked to anybody. The German Foreign Minister who had a meeting with me did not raise this issue.”
He said different departments including the Law Ministry have recommended termination of the contract but there were only procedural delays in implementing it.
Asked whether the rash of scams has affected India’s image globally, Dr. Singh said “it is a sort of atmosphere that saps our confidence. Our image is affected. I urge each one of you (media) that while opinions are speculative, facts are sacred. The facts should not be distorted.”
“We owe it to our country that at least in dealing with facts, we should be as objective as possible. One can freely express their opinions. But in our reporting on country’s affairs, we should deal with facts as objectively as possible,” he said.
On corruption, he said a Group of Ministers has been set up under the leadership of Pranab Mukerjee to recommend ways to deal with the menace. It has been given 60 days time to give its report.
On blackmoney stashed abroad, he said “we will take all steps to bring all blackmoney that is legally ours“.
He said efforts are on to sign treaties with other countries to get information about blackmoney abroad.
Asked whether “balm” would be applied in the budget to the common man reeling under inflation, he said it would not be proper to discuss the budget.
To a question on delay in the probe into the Commonwealth games which he had promised to complete within 90 days, the Prime Minister said “we are trying out best. But we will have to do the due process of law“.
“It is very frustrating that it takes time. But this time the culprits will not escape,” he said.
Keywords: Manmohan press conference