Transcript of the Q&A portion of the Prime Minister’s Press Conference in New Delhi on January 4, 2014. Hindi answers in Italics.
Q: After assembly election, much churning is going on within the Congress. Do you think the Congress should now announce its PM candidate?
PM:The Congress president has already answered the question. We will announce our candidate at the appropriate time.
Q: On Corruption issues which have come to light during UPA-II, and the rise of AAP.
PM: As far as the charges of corruption are concerned, most of these charges relate to the period of UPA-I. Cal block allocation as well as 2G spectrum allocation were both in the era of UPA-I. We went to elections on the basis of our performance in that period, and the people of India gave us the mandate to govern for another 5 years. So whether, these issues, which have been raised from time to time by the media, sometimes by the CAG, sometimes by Court, one must not forget that they belong to a period which was not the period of UPA-II, but the period relating to the previous five years, and the people of India entrusted us with the responsibilities. So the people of India do not seem to have paid heed to all these charges of corruption which are levied against me or my colleagues.
Q: Scandals such as Commonwealth and 2G have cost the Govt a great deal. When you look back, do you feel there is something you should have done differently, and what would it be?
PM: I feel somewhat sad, because I was the one who insisted that the spectrum allocation should be transparent, it should be equitable. I was the one who insisted that coal block allocations should be done on the basis of auctions. These facts are forgotten, the opposition has vested interests and sometimes the media plays into their hand as well. Therefore, I have every reason to believe that when history of this period is written, that we will come out unscathed. This is not to say that there was no irregularity. There were irregularities. But the dimensions of the problems have been overstated by the media, by the CAG sometimes and by other entities.
Q: You did indicate in your opening speech that you rule yourself out of a third term. So do you want Rahul Gandhi to be named PM candidate? And do you rule out an active political life for yourself after the 2014 elections?
PM: I have indicated in my opening remarks that I am not going to be a candidate for Prime Ministership if the UPA were to come back to power. Rahul Gandhi has outstanding credentials to be nominated as the (Prime Ministerial) candidate. I hope our party will take that decision at the appropriate time.
Q: Have you ever felt like resigning, at any point over the last 9-10 years?
PM: I have never felt like resigning at any time, I have enjoyed doing my work. I have tried to do my work with all honesty, with all sense of integrity, without regard, or fear or favour.
Q: UPA-1 benefited from the Common Minimum Programme and coordination committee. UPA-2 didn’t have one. Will UPA-3 have a CMP, if it comes to power?
PM: It is too early to judge the shape of things to come for UPA-3. I am confident that when the time comes, there will be enough number of people, who will recognise that a coalition guided by the Congress party, of the type that the UPA regime has been, is something which is required, something which is eminently needed to carry out the social and economic revolution that we want this country to experience, to get rid of poverty, ignorance and disease that afflict millions of people in our country even now.
Q: Most CMs said that the defeat was due to the price rise, does it hurt that the blame is put on your door? Also, Diesel prices have not been reviewed, and the number of subsidised LPG cylinders is also under review. Does this show that your government has reviewed its policy on subsidies as a result of its defeat in the assembly elections?
PM:Well what is going to happen in the months to come, I will not like to speculate, and certainly not in this forum. I will be honest enough to say that price rise was a factor in the people turning against the Congress party. And I will like to explain why price rise took place was due to reasons outside our control because international commodity prices were rising, international energy prices were rising, and these were the factors that prevented us from controlling prices as effectively as we could have done. But having said that, I would say that we have taken enough measures to protect the weaker sections of our society against rising prices. Prices of public distribution food grains have not been increased since 2003. What is more, through instrumentalities such as MGNREGS, we have ensured rural wages have been earned by the agricultural labourers, are indexed at the rate of inflation, and these factors must not be lost sight of.
Q: Why do the schemes for minorities not reach the people?
PM: Humne Sachar committee ki sifarishon ko laagu karne mein kaafi kaam kiya hai. Mujhe dukh se kehna padta hai ki ye tamaam aavaam tak nahin pahunch sakaa. Ye bhi theek hai ki kuchh aisi baatein hain jo abhi karni baaki hain. Kuchh courts mein padi hain. Aur kuchh problems aayee hain jinki vajeh se aur cheezon ko laagu nahin kiya jaa saka. Lekin, jahaan tak hamaare government ka taalluk hai, scholarships for minorities have gone up tremendously. Maulana Azad fellowships have increased substantially. The programme for multi-disciplinary approaches to minority-concentrated districts in 90 districts of our country have been put in place. So, enough has been done, but I would be the last person to say that there is no scope for doing more.
Q: You have been accused of remaining silent. What stops you?
PM: Jahaan tak bolne ka sawaal hai, jab bhi zaroorat padi hai, party forum mein, main zaroor bolta raha hoon, aur aage bhi bolta rahoonga. (On the issue of speaking, I have spoken when necessary – in party forums – and will continue to speak)
Q: Are you still hopeful about pushing some reforms agenda. What will be your priorities?
PM: Reform is not an event, it is process and therefore, so long as we are in power, we will continue to push the causes of reforms where ever there is scope for it and if circumstances permits us to go forward.
Q:Virbhadra Singh in HP is sitting in government and deciding on companies where he and his family have an interest. Do you think that is proper?
PM: I am sorry. I am not able to comment on what you are referring to, in Himachal Pradesh. I have seen some newspaper reports. I have also received a letter on December 29 from Arun Jaitely.
But I have not had the time to apply my mind to it-what is the truth in these allegations.
Q: How do you think the Aam Aadmi now perceives you, as a politician, as a PM?
PM: I am the same person as I was years ago. There has been no change. I say it in all sincerity that I have tried to serve this country with utmost dedication and commitment and with utmost integrity. I have never used my office to enrich or to reward my friends or my relatives.
Q: What is the state of the Indo-US relations. As your term comes to an end, it seems to have hit rock bottom again.
PM: Our Government attaches highest priority to strengthening the strategic partnership between our two countries. There have recently been some hiccups, but I sincerely believe that these are temporary aberrations and diplomacy should be given a chance to resolve these issues that have arisen.
Q: Difficult terrain has become a common excuse to give for incomplete implementation of projects in the North-East. What is your Government doing about it?
PM: I think fencing and some of these other projects have been facing some difficulties, because of difficulties of terrain. There is no doubt about that.
Q: On rhino killing. Do you think central govt should step in to protect the rhino?
PM: The rhino is a national asset. Every effort should be made, and will be made to protect this precious animal.
Q: Do you think we should have a presidential form of government?
PM: I have not thought on this issues in any depth but its my preliminary reaction that the parliamentary system of government is the best suited for a country of India's complexity, of India's diversity; that a presidential system would be counter productive.
Q: Many will say that you allowed the situation to go out of hand – that is why even the Supreme Court indicted the PMO for its acts of omission and commission. How do you see your legacy in view of the fact that you failed to act?
PM: I honestly believe that history will be kinder to me than the contemporary media, or for that matter, the Opposition parties in Parliament. I cannot divulge all things that take place in the Cabinet system of Government. I think, taking into account the circumstances, and the compulsions of a coalition polity, I have done as best as I could under the circumstances.
Q: Do you think Rahul Gandhi vs Narendra Modi is an equal contest? Are you confident he will be able to form the Government?
PM: I have full confidence that the next Prime Minister will be from the UPA coalition, and that without discussing the merits of Mr. Narendra Modi, it will be disastrous for the country to have Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister.
Q: The BJP and Mr. Modi’s charge against you is that you have been a weak PM. Does the party have a role?
PM: I do not believe that I have been a weak Prime Minister. That is for historians to judge. The BJP and its associates may say whatever they like. But if by “strong Prime Minister”, you mean that you preside over a mass massacre of innocent citizens on the streets of Ahmedabad, that is the measure of strength, I do not believe that sort of strength this country needs, least of all, in its Prime Minister.
Q: Will you feel historic opportunities on India-Pak ties were missed? Do you feel a durable peace settlement will still remain in reach for your successor?
PM: I have tried to improve relations with all our neighbours to the best of my ability. At one time, it appeared that an important breakthrough was in sight. Events in Pakistan, for example, the fact that General Musharraf had to make way for a different setup, I think that led to the process not moving further. But I still believe that good relations between India and Pakistan are very essential for this sub-continent to realize its full development potential, to get rid of poverty, ignorance and disease, which has been the inevitable lot of millions and millions of people in this sub-continent of ours.
Q: The country remembers your stint as Finance Minister. What about your legacy as PM? And what do you think you could not achieve over the last decade?
PM: I have done as well as I could under the circumstances, it is for historians to judge how successful I have been. My own feeling is that we have sustained and maintained the momentum of rapid economic growth and if you look at the period of nine years that we have completed, compare it with the preceding six years of the NDA, I think that it emerges very clearly that in most indicators of performance, our performance has been superior to that of the NDA period.
Q: Do you think that the experiment of the dual centre of power was successful? Was it an asset or a liability?
PM: I can only speak about the system as it has worked. I sincerely believe that an arrangement where the Congress President and the Prime Minister, do not happen to be the same person – in the circumstances – it has worked exceedingly well. For me, it has been a remarkable achievement that I have been able to complete ten years of my Prime Ministership without any hiccups in the relationship between the Congress Party and the Prime Minister, or for that matter, the Government. For me, Mrs Gandhi’s support has been an enormous help in dealing with very complex issues. The fact that she was there to back me up, facilitated my task as Prime Minister in more than one way.
Q: Why was it not possible for you to visit Pakistan?
PM: I would very much like to go to Pakistan. I was born in a village which is now part of west Punjab. But as Prime Minister of the country, I should go to visit Pakistan if conditions are appropriate to achieve solid results. I have thought of it many times, but ultimately I felt that circumstances were not appropriate for my visit. I still have not given up hope of going to Pakistan before I complete my tenure as Prime Minister.
Q: How many marks would you give your tenure on a scale of ten?
PM: It is for you to judge. As far as I am concerned, I feel I have done reasonably well. The growth process that we sustained in the last ten years despite the global financial crisis, despite the Euro-zone crisis, and considering also what is happening in other emerging countries like Brazil, like South Africa, like Indonesia, I don’t think ours is a story which can be described as unsuccessful or eventful.
Q: How do you rate the phenomenon of AAP? Do you think we need a CAG audit of companies which supply power?
PM: The people of India have reposed confidence in the AAP party in Delhi. I think we must respect the democratic process. Only time will tell whether this experience is capable of dealing with the challenges that our economy and our polity face. It is too early – they have been there only less than a week – they must be given time and chance to justify themselves.
Q: You keep asking Rahul to join the Government, but he keeps refusing. Further, everyone in the Congress party says it is losing because of the negative image of the Manmohan Singh Government.
PM: That certainly is not my view. And if you feel there are people who hold that opinion, I cannot help it. It is for historians to judge what I have done, what I have not done, what were my weaknesses, what were my strengths. As far as I am concerned, I am convinced that considering the circumstances under which I had to work, because of the global slowdown, we have done reasonably well. We have delivered the highest rate of growth in the first nine years of our Government, highest ever since this country got going as an independent country.
I have always felt that our Government would have been strengthened if Rahul Gandhi was part of the Government. But Rahul says that he has responsibilities to the party that do not permit him to join the Government, and I respect his sentiment.
Q: There has been a clamour for a political face in the Congress party, before the elections. Did the Congress leadership ever hint to you to step down before the elections? Doesn’t the buck stop with the Prime Minister on issues such as corruption and price rise?
PM: I have said what I have to say. But nobody has asked me to step down because of any inadequacies that may have characterized my tenure as Prime Minister.
Q: There are two major issues in Tamil Nadu. When are you going to find a permanent settlement to the problem of the Tamil Nadu fishermen. When your Government is so concerned about Devyani, why not about the Sri Lankan Tamils?
PM: It is not true that we are not concerned about the well-being of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka. We have consistently made every effort to persuade the Government of Sri Lanka to address the genuine problems of the Tamil population of Sri Lanka. We will continue to do so in the future as well. As far as the fishermen’s fate is concerned, we have on innumerable number of occasions, discussed this matter with the Government of Sri Lanka, and now we find that in northern Sri Lanka, we have a Government of the Tamil population themselves. We feel there is an opportunity for the Tamil population of Sri Lanka, and the Tamil population in Tamil Nadu to sit together, to work out an arrangement between the fishermen of the two countries which will be mutually satisfactory. I think this is going to happen. This is the only way in which this problem of fishermen in both countries can be resolved.
Q: What were the best and the lowest moments for you as PM?
PM: I will need time to reflect on this. But certainly, the best moment for me was when we were able to strike a nuclear deal with the United States to end the nuclear apartheid which had sought to stifle the processes of social and economic change, and technical progress of our country in many ways.
Q: Is there a message for the bigger parties in the rise of AAP?
PM: Corruption is an issue and certainly the AAP has been able to make a success of their concern for eradication of corruption. Whether they will succeed or not, I think that only time will tell. I have a feeling that dealing with corruption is not an easy process. Even though there may be opportunities as well as challenges, we must collectively grapple with the task of dealing with corruption. This is not a matter which only one party can accomplish. Various political parties have to work together to deal with this monster.
Q: Do you have anything particular in mind, which you want to do, and couldn’t do so far. Do you see a possibility in coalition politics that parties will come back to you for a third term?
PM: I think the five months that are there with us, is still a long period of time for us to revive the growth impulses of our economy. If I am successful in doing that, I think I would consider that as a job having been well done.
Q: Will you be announcing 12 subsidised LPG cylinders? Will you be announcing a re-look at the Kasturirangan report?
PM: As far as the Kasturirangan report is concerned, it is still in the stage of being discussed with various state governments. No final decision has been taken. As far as raising the number of (LPG) cylinders that will be made available to the people, I think no decision has been taken as of now.
Q: What about succour to the victims of anti-Sikh riots?
PM: If you are talking about the Sikhs who suffered in 1984 riots, I think our Government has done quite a lot, and I used the opportunity of a discussion in Parliament, to publicly apologise to the Sikh community on behalf of the Government of our country, for what had happened in 1984. It should never have happened. As far as the compensation is concerned, one can never give adequate compensation to compensate for the loss of valuable lives. But wherever possible, we have provided succour to the suffering families of the Sikhs affected by the 1984 riots.
Q: Are you going to play an active role in politics after 2014?
PM: I haven’t thought through that process, and it is too early. I still have five months to complete my present tenure. And therefore, when I reach that stage, I will cross that bridge.
Q: There has been a perception that decisions are made in 10 Janpath and announced at 7 RCR.
PM: It is not a disadvantage. The Congress Party President or the Vice-President – if they have any views, they ought to be reflected in the thinking of the Government to the extent that it is possible. I think it is not a disadvantage or a drawback in the system that we have operated. The fact that Mrs Gandhi or for that matter Rahul Gandhi were there to back the Government up, is something which has enabled us to deal with many difficult moments in these nine and a half years. There were, of course, times, when they differed from what the Government had done. The Government reconsidered those issues, and I don’t think this is wrong, or a disadvantage, to make corrections if the party leadership feels that such corrections were required in the national interest.
Q: What were your two biggest regrets in the last nine and a half years?
PM: I am sorry. I haven’t thought through this matter. But certainly, I would like to do a lot more in the area of healthcare, healthcare for children, healthcare for women. The National Rural Health Mission that we started has achieved impressive results but a lot more needs to be done.
Q: What would you like to say to foreign investors?
PM: India provides a hospitable environment for FDI. We will continue to do so. We will continue to improve upon our practices wherever needed.
Q: Any major Bills you still want to request the Opposition to help pass. Anti-corruption Bill? Women’s Reservation Bill?
PM: Hamaari koshish hogi ki anti-corruption Bill, 5-6 Bill hain, jo Parliament mein pade hain, aisaa maahaul paida kiya jaaye ki ye Bill pass ho jaayein. Hamaari corruption ke khilaaf jo ladai hai, wo aage badh sake. Ye hamaari bharpoor koshish rahegi. (Our efforts will be to get the 5-5 anti-corruptions bills pending in Parliament passed – to create an atmosphere where these bills are passed. We will try our best to take forward our fight against corruption ) Women’s reservation also happens to be one such area.
Q: You seem to have tolerated a lot of nonsense in the last nine and a half years. Your party men also say you are an over-rated economist and under-rated politician.
PM: What you think of me or what the country thinks of me is something I cannot speculate on. As I mentioned earlier, I have tried to serve my country with the greatest sense of dedication and commitment. When I became Prime Minister, the general perception was that the Congress Party has never been able to run a coalition government. The Congress ability to run a coalition government was to be tested, and we showed that the Congress party can successfully manage the coalition to complete not one, but two terms. In the process, there have been some compromises, but I can assure you that those compromises relate to peripheral areas. They do not in any way affect our ability or our keenness to deal with national problems with the objectivity that is necessary.
Q: What are the domestic factors that led to the slowdown?
PM: There were domestic factors as well. But more important was the role of international factors. First, the global slowdown of 2008-2009. Then the Euro-zone crisis. But I would be the last one to say that there were no domestic factors. There were infrastructure bottlenecks. There were bottlenecks in terms of timely clearances of the projects from the point of view of environment and forest. These were also factors which influenced. Both the international factors and the domestic factors combined to contribute to a slowdown in the rate of economic growth.
Q: Do you periodically appraise the performance of your Ministers? Should such a review be made public, to know who were the performers and who were the non-performers?
PM: It is an ongoing process. My office monitors all major sectors, particularly the infrastructure sectors. If there are any weaknesses in the functioning of any one particular sector or Ministry, these things are discussed in the Cabinet from time to time.
Q: Prices across all sectors are rising. You have five months left. Can you get a handle on inflation in this period?
PM: We will certainly make every effort. We are trying to do that. The Vice-President of the Congress Party, Mr. Rahul Gandhi, convened a meeting of Congress Chief Ministers, to discuss what can be done in the Congress-ruled states to bring prices under control.
Q: Will Narendra Modi’s dream of “Congress-mukt Bharat” materialise?
PM: I sincerely believe that what Mr. Narendra Modi is saying is not going to materialise.