M A I N   N E W S

Ordinance soon to repeal POTA
Sonia not super PM, says Manmohan Singh
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 4
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said today the government would come forward with an Ordinance soon to repeal POTA and dismissed as “without foundation” the Opposition charge that Congress president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi is the “super Prime Minister.”

“The insinuation that there are two separate centres of power is not true,” he maintained in his unobtrusive style at his maiden Press conference here.

Dr Singh also removed any misconceptions that he can be pressurised to give up the Prime Ministership “which is not going to materialise as our government is going to last five years.”

He sought to nip any speculation in the bud when asked about the popular perception that if things went against his grain, there was a likelihood of his putting in his papers. “It is an honour to be the Prime Minister even though I was not an aspirant. Now that I have been in this seat for 100 days, it is an honour, privilege and challenge.”

Describing the last three months as rather unusual, the Prime Minister noted that a new government is normally granted a “honeymoon period” of settling down to work. “Unfortunately I have not been granted that indulgence and we have had to hit the ground running. I can confidently say that despite this rough start, our government has started translating the mandate and message of this 2004 elections into policies and programmes.”

Dr Singh acknowledged that inflation was a matter of concern but assured that the UPA government would find mastery over the inflationary trends. He attributed the faltering growth to the weather Gods over which the government had no control. He, however, insisted that there was no deceleration of growth in the economy as evidenced in the industrial sector and exports compared to last year.

He made it clear that his government had not given up on reforms. “We will stay on the course and the whole programme has to be sold to other coalition partners. Despite matters being complicated, we will be bale to take things forward.”

A map made in China portrays Sikkim as a separate country.
A map made in China portrays Sikkim as a separate country. The map is part of a publication distributed among delegates at the third international conference of Asian political parties hosted by the Communist Party of China in Beijing on Saturday. — PTI

About the problem in Manipur, he said the state government was grappling with a very difficult situation. “They need our sympathy and support.” The state government has the right to revise and modify the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

Dr Singh affirmed his government’s commitment to pursue the peace process and carry forward the dialogue process with Pakistan. He attached great importance to developing relations with China. He had no doubt that India and China could benefit from each other’s development experience.

He said he was not talking of any “path breaking progress” in the resumed Indo-Pak composite dialogue and expressed confidence of making progress on complex issues. “What has been achieved is not insignificant”.

“Our approach to the talks will be based on realism and the belief that the people of South Asia are bound together by a shared destiny. It is not my nature to promise a false dawn but I do believe in the ancient saying that a road is made by walking step by step,” the Prime Minister observed.

Dr Singh did not hedge in answering questions on any subject and covered Jammu and Kashmir, cross-border terrorism, criminalisation of politics and electoral reforms, functioning of Parliament being paralysed, inter-state water disputes, linking of rivers and reforming the United Nations.

Replying to a question on education and text books, the Prime Minister said he did not want the system to become a prisoner of any ideology or dominated by the bureaucracy. “We want to give institutions maximum autonomy so that they are able to manage their affairs in the interest of intellectual integrity.”

On J and K, the Prime Minister noted that there were several dimensions to the problem.

Dr Singh said it was his government’s endeavour to engage all groups and elements, including the Hurriyat Conference in J and K.

He hoped the Hurriyat Conference would take advantage of this offer. “We will talk to anyone in J and K and the Northeast who abjure the path of violence.”

Expressing “deep regret and concern” at Parliament not being allowed to function, Dr Singh said the time had come for all political parties to come together and evolve a new code of conduct and behaviour for Parliamentarians.

“Parliament is the custodian of our sovereignty. It reflects on the poll process. I hope the present tendencies will be overcome which is not conducive to Parliamentary practices.” On the tainted ministers, the Prime Minister said that it is subject matter of considerable controversies. It has become imperative for all parties to agree on electoral reforms so that tainted members do not get elected to Parliament. This is the only way of ending criminalisation of politics.

Asked about his upcoming talks with U S President George Bush on the sidelines of the UNGA, Dr Singh said “nobody has asked us to sign the NPT. It is not a live issue. In any case the developing countries have genuine aspirations for a seat in the United Nations Security Council. There is greater support for India in this regard.



Control terror, Manmohan tells Pakistan
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 4
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today made it clear that his government would stick to the previous government’s no-first-use policy in context of nuclear weapons and that dialogue with Pakistan “can move forward only if terrorism is under control”.

The twin remarks of the Prime Minister made at his maiden formal press conference at Vigyan Bhavan here assume significance as this is the first time when he has articulated himself on these two policy issues. Of particular importance is the Prime Minister’s usage of the phrase “under control” in the context of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism which obviously conveys to Pakistan a certain degree of India’s tolerance level.

In response to a question from this correspondent on whether his government would evolve its own Nuclear Doctrine and what he thought of the no-first-use policy, the Prime Minister said that for a nuclear weapon state like India no-first-use was “the right posture”. He, however, ducked the second part of the question which asked him to spell his views on External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh’s 3-month-old remark that India, Pakistan and China should work towards evolving a common nuclear doctrine.

Dr Manmohan Singh was expectedly flooded with questions on Pakistan. On the continued infiltration, he said “We continue to be concerned about infiltration. If we have to move forward, there has to be a sincere attempt (on behalf of Pakistan) to deliver what was promised on January 6.”

The Prime Minister was referring to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s statement of January 6 this year wherein he had said that he would not allow the Pakistani territory for any terrorist activities against India.

When asked to spell out his agenda when he meets Gen Musharraf on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly in New York, Dr Manmohan Singh replied that his agenda would be to normalise and expand the multifaceted relationship between the two neighbours.

The Prime Minister was at pains to repeatedly stress that he was in favour of carrying forward the peace process and the Composite Dialogue with Pakistan “which in due course will produce constructive results.”

The Prime Minister asserted that the progress in Indo-Pak affairs needed to be “step by step”. In the context of Indo-Pak talks, he said: “We are dealing with complicated issues. We can deal with these issues constructively. I have a vision that countries of South Asia share a common destiny. The time has come that we can take major steps to move forward.”

The Prime Minister said he was approaching Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri’s visit “with a feeling of confidence and hope that the Composite Dialogue process can be sustained.” He also declared his government’s intent to engage all Kashmiri groups, including Hurriyat Conference, in talks.


PM plays perfect strokes at press conference
Satish Misra
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 4
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s maiden 90 minutes press conference today at Vigyan Bhavan here turned out to be an unprecedented exercise in more than one way as it was a cool and confident affair.

Clad in white khadi kurta payjama with his trademark sky blue turban, the Prime Minister was punctual to the dot as he entered the main conference hall of Vigyan Bhavan at 5.30 pm.

The press conference, which was attended by over 200 national and international journalists, began with a brief introduction of Dr Singh by Additional Principal Information Officer Deepak Sandhu.

Sitting on the dais alone with his Media Adviser Sanjay Baru conducting the press conference by identifying the journalist who would ask the question, the Prime Minister handled each question for almost 90 minutes without even raising his voice once and gave answers in a manner which left most of those present contended and satisfied.

Compared to his immediate predecessors, Dr Singh was not caught even once on a wrong foot or groping for help to tackle tricky and sometime little cumbersome and highly technical questions.

While the exercise was correct to the last point, it must be said here that the 90 minutes exercise was without the effervescence of former Prime Minister Rajeev Gandhi or tongue- in-cheek witicism of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Using the cricket parlance, Dr Singh did not duck any ball but on the contrary he hooked and pulled a rising delivery from a newsperson.

The hall burst into laughter when at the very outset, Dr Singh said that “I am ready to throw pigeon among cats”.

The Prime Minister distanced himself from his cabinet colleague Mani Shankar Aiyer on the Savarkar issue when he told a newsperson that it was the latter’s personal view.

After 70 minutes, when Dr Baru declared the end of press meet, Dr Singh responded to the vocal demand of many journalists who could not pose their question to him by agreeing to be a little longer with them.

Barring the two minutes of protests from few journalists for having been denied the chance to ask a question, the press conference was a smooth exercise.



PM finds fault with Amarinder’s stand on SYL
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 4
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh indirectly admitted that Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s unilateral move to nullify inter-state water-sharing accords was legally untenable.

Giving a measured response on this issue at his first press conference today, Dr Manmohan Singh referred to a similar situation which arose in 1991, when the Karnataka Government issued an ordinance abrogating a water-sharing agreement. The matter, he recalled, was taken to the Supreme Court, which eventually advised that the ordinance was not consistent with legal processes.

While maintaining that water-sharing aroused strong sentiments among states, which could not be ignored, Dr Manmohan Singh stated that as far as the Punjab situation was concerned, the Centre had approached the Supreme Court regarding the legality of the state government’s decision. “These subsequent events show that the Centre is concerned with this development,” Dr Manmohan Singh stated, adding that it also indicated that the Centre took its task seriously.

Dr Manmohan Singh had another dig at Capt Amarinder Singh when, replying to a question of reforms, he recalled how the present state government had promised free power on election eve, but reversed its decision when it came to power as it was not feasible to keep this promise.

Dr Manmohan Singh had objected to the inclusion of this promise in the state election manifesto, but he was overruled. The Prime Minister, it is learnt, is wary of making promises which are difficult to implement.

While Punjab came in for indirect criticism, Dr Manmohan Singh saw no wrong with the Manipur Government’s decision to amend the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, saying it was within its right to modify it. In any case, Dr Manmohan Singh said, the Act was lifted from only some parts of Imphal, but was still applicable in other parts of the state.

Faced with criticism on the issue of job quotas in the private sector, the Prime Minister stressed that opportunities for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and other disadvantaged sections needed to be enlarged in the private sector. The modalities for this exercise, Dr Manmohan Singh said, had to be worked out in consultation with the private sector, adding that the group of ministers set up recently would pursue such a dialogue.

While endorsing Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh’s stand on desaffronising education, the Prime Minister sent out a message to the Left, stating that he was opposed to fundamentalism of all kinds. He agreed that distortions which had cropped up in history books recently needed to be corrected.



RSP threat to withdraw support to UPA

New Delhi, September 4
Concerned over the negative attitude of the UPA government in honouring demands of the Left, the three-member RSP today threatened to withdraw support if it did not come up with a timeframe for implementing the Common Minimum Programme (CMP).

“We may have to withdraw support if the government does not come up with a timeframe for implementing the CMP,” RSP General Secretary K. Pankajakshan told mediapersons here after its two-day central secretariat meeting.

Asked what timeframe was the party proposing, he declined to comment.

To a query whether the UPA-Left coordination committee had become defunct, the RSP leader replied in the negative, but said withdrawing support to the government would be the last option.

On the promised Minimum Employment Guarantee, Mr Pankajakshan said so far the government could not do anything and was delaying the whole process.

Coming down on the Foreign Trade Policy, which according to the RSP was against domestic industries and the CMP, he said the Left was not taken into confidence.

The decision to slash import duties on capital goods would seriously impact the domestic industries in the country, he said. — PTI



Army to stay in Manipur: Pranab
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 4
Union Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee today indicated that there was no move to remove the Army from the trouble-torn state of Manipur in the near future.

Expressing concern over the developments in the state, he said the Centre was not keen on keeping a large number of Army personnel in the region, but was forced to do so in Manipur to protect tribal groups from each other.

Addressing a function organised by the Observer Research Foundation, he said the North-East, especially Manipur, was a good example of how development was not possible without security.


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