Says New Delhi is "continually assessing" its bilateral relations with Islamabad

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday said India was “continually assessing” its bilateral relations with Pakistan in the wake of the recent ceasefire violations and the killing and mutilation of two Indian soldiers. “We have made it clear to Pakistan that this could have a negative impact on our ties.”

Addressing party workers at the All-India Congress Committee (AICC) session on the concluding day of the party’s chintan shivir here, Dr. Singh said Pakistan’s action at the LoC on January 8 was “inhuman” and Islamabad must make sincere efforts to restore friendly relations with India. “We want good relations, but Pakistan too needs to take steps in that direction.”

Affirming that peace and stability were the cornerstone of India’s foreign policy, Dr. Singh said future actions on issues with Pakistan would be taken with “full vigilance and caution.”

The Prime Minister touched upon a wide range of issues — including price rise, inclusive growth, corruption, growth rate, infrastructure and new legal rights — in his address, which had the elements of populism, as several States go to the polls later this year and the Lok Sabha election is due in 2014.

Dr. Singh spoke just after Congress president Sonia Gandhi addressed the gathering at the B.M. Birla Auditorium. He expressed the confidence that the Congress would get people’s mandate if it worked in the right way.

Admitting that price rise constituted a shortcoming in the UPA’s track record, Dr. Singh said concrete steps would be taken to check it during 2013-14. The principal reason for price rise, according to him, were the increasing international prices of petroleum products in the past eight years. Another factor was the “phenomenal increase” by the government in the minimum support prices for crops paid to farmers.

Better performance

The UPA government, in its two terms, had performed better than the NDA regime and fulfilled most of the promises made in 2004 and 2009.

In six years of the NDA rule, the GDP growth was just 5.8 per cent, while the UPA government had achieved an annual growth rate of 8.2 per cent since 2004. Poverty decreased 2.5 times more in the UPA’s term than during the NDA rule.

The Prime Minister affirmed that the Congress must improve its communication strategy to ensure that people knew about the government’s achievements. “We must also convey clearly our vision for the nation’s future and spell out how we are going to achieve it.”

Dr. Singh made a reference to last month’s New Delhi gang rape incident. He said it was the government’s responsibility to create an atmosphere in which women felt safe. “We are committed to bringing about changes in laws, but it is also necessary to transform our social values to increase respect for women. We have to go a long way for ensuring equality for women in all spheres.”

Dr. Singh said the Congress had focussed on the poor and underprivileged sections and taken steps for the improvement of health, education and agriculture in rural areas.

Sonia’s call

Earlier, Ms. Gandhi laid emphasis on unity and discipline in the rank and file and called for publicising the good work of the UPA government among the masses.

Ms. Gandhi said she would shortly appoint a party task force to deliberate on electoral reforms and examine political funding as part of a larger action plan to address people’s “disenchantment” with the political process. The reforms would be introduced in a time-bound manner.

Ms. Gandhi said she would personally press for the passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill in Parliament and State Assemblies. “Reservation for women in panchayats and municipal bodies, a legacy of Rajiv Gandhi, has transformed these institutions and led to better governance.”

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