Cynicism, sniping bad for business, raise spectre of permit raj

Hitting out against the perception that he is heading “the most corrupt government,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday appealed to Parliament, the Comptroller and Auditor-General and the media to factor in the “world of uncertainty” under which the United Progressive Alliance was operating in assessing its policy decisions and their implementation.

In a rare two-hour interaction with a small group of editors here on Wednesday, Dr. Singh made lengthy opening remarks and fielded questions touching on various issues confronted by his government, including scams, the stand-off with sections of civil society, his equations with Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the desire of some Congress leaders to see Rahul Gandhi in the Prime Minister's chair and the debate on the government's sincerity in unearthing black money.

Taking on the media, Parliament and even the CAG — whose reports on massive irregularities in the telecom and hydrocarbon sectors have put the UPA on the back foot — Dr. Singh argued that these institutions had the benefit of considering ‘post-facto' developments, whereas government decisions were taken in a “world of uncertainty and ex-facto.” He attacked the “atmosphere of cynicism … created all round” by the constant accusations of corruption and said this would discourage “the entrepreneurial impulses of our people.” “So, we must create in this country an environment in which governments, Ministers and civil servants will not be discouraged from taking decisions in the national interest when all facts are not known, ... will never be known.”

At the first in a series of exchanges planned with the media, the theme song of the Prime Minister was that an “atmosphere” was created in the country that the government was under siege and complained that this was largely being fuelled by the media. “The role of the media today in many cases has become that of the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge,” he bemoaned.

The interaction followed concerns within the UPA and the government over Dr. Singh's reticence to speak out on subjects which have caught the imagination of the public.

The tone and tenor of Dr. Singh's remarks and his response to questions — the transcript of which was made available by the PMO only late in the evening, more than nine hours after the interaction ended — was part defensive and part professorial, perhaps like the viva he might have undergone for his Ph.D. at Cambridge four decades ago. The sole exception was when he was asked to respond to the perception that he was a “lame duck” Prime Minister running a “comatose” government and that Ms. Sonia Gandhi decided everything of consequence on policy matters.

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