‘My long public career has been an open book'
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Tuesday that he was ready to give up his public career if there was even an “iota” of truth in the allegations of graft made against him by anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare and his team.
Earlier this week, Team Anna levelled charges of corruption against Dr. Singh and 13 Ministers, issuing a “charge sheet” against them, and demanding the setting up of a special investigation team to probe the charges.
The allegations against Dr. Singh related to the allocation of coal blocks when he was looking after the Coal Ministry.
Asked about this at an interaction with the media on his flight back from Myanmar, a disturbed Dr. Singh first read out a prepared statement, in which he said the government would put out a “detailed factual response” once it had received the CAG's report on which the allegations are based.
Until then, he said, “uninformed discussions based on leaked drafts are unfortunate.” Reading from the statement, he also said irresponsible allegations were being made against his Cabinet colleagues “without confirming the facts.”
But when a second question was asked on the same issue, Dr. Singh responded spontaneously in Hindi, and with much feeling:
“I will say this much for sure: the people of the country will decide what wrong has the Prime Minister committed that such harsh words are being used for him.
“If I have done anything dishonest…my whole public life, whether as Finance Minister, or in the Rajya Sabha, or [as] Leader of the Opposition, or Prime Minister, it is an open book,” he said.
Without naming anyone, he added: “If anyone makes an allegation, he must prove it. If there is even an iota of truth in the allegations, I am willing to give up my public career…the country can give me any punishment…but to use such harsh words, without rhyme or reason, I think the public in India should decide whether this sort of politics is the politics that should rule the roost in this country.”
Earlier, asked about the rupee crash, Dr. Singh said the depreciation was a cause for concern, but not unduly so, because countries around the world were facing the same problem because of the Eurozone crisis.
“The Eurozone crisis has made FII and FDI investors hesitant to go out, especially to emerging markets. But I believe this phenomenon is not going to last very long,” he said, but dismissed the suggestion that the country was heading to a near 1991-like situation. “We are nowhere near the 1991 situation. I do concede that it is worrying but other countries like South Africa are also facing a similar situation.” he said.
Countries were coming to terms with the situation, Dr. Singh said, and the G20 meeting in Mexico would discuss how to better manage the problem.
Asked about Army Chief V.K. Singh's allegations about the goings-on in the Army and the Defence Ministry, and the government's silence, he was ready with a one-liner: “Sometimes, silence is golden.”
Dr. Singh also had another one-liner when asked whether he would want to be the President of India, a post for which his name has done the rounds: “I am happy where I am.”