Too early to talk about PM
candidate, says Manmohan
Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s indication of projecting him notwithstanding, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh feels that there are several leaders in the Congress who are equally or better qualified than him to be projected as the party’s prime ministerial candidates for the next elections.
“It’s too early to talk about the potential prime ministerial candidate for the Congress as there are several leaders who are equally qualified or better qualified than me. I have not applied my mind to that sort of question,” Singh told reporters who accompanied him on his 10-day visit to the US and France.
The Prime Minister looked relaxed, having stitched a nuclear deal with France and extracted a commitment from new President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari that Islamabad would not allow the Pakistani territory to be used for anti-Indian activities.
Asked if he was prepared to once again deal with the Left parties, which have been spitting venom on him ever since they withdrew support to his government over the Indo-US nuclear deal, he said “I felt very sad when our Left colleagues parted company. I still have not given up hope to carry conviction with them that the nuclear deal protects all essential interests of our country.”
The Prime Minister claimed that the nuclear deal protects the country’s strategic programme and opens up new options for India to manage its energy situation. “So I sincerely believe that whether it is the BJP or the Left if they look objectively, there is nothing in the nuclear deal which will hurt the interests of the country.”
Observing that there were many compulsions of managing a coalition, he said he had proved wrong the charge against the Congress that it was not good at managing coalitions. “We have given this country a purposeful government, a government which by-and-large has the support and respect of all constituents of our coalition.”
Singh spoke about a wide range of issues, including the global financial crisis and its impact on India, the row over land acquisition for the Tata Nano plant in Singur, demands for the removal of Home Minister Shivraj Patil as well as attacks on Christians.
On whether Patil would get the sacking order in the wake of serial blasts in important cities, Singh said there were problems in the system to counter terrorism and “it is not a question of one individual”.
He said his Congress-led government was focused on pursuing economic reforms with a human face and tackling terrorism by improving counter-terror mechanisms. “The first and foremost task of any government in our country is to deal with issues of development because poverty, ignorance and disease still affect millions and millions of our countrymen,” he said.
Singh argued, “Meaningful solutions to the problems of mass poverty can be found only in the framework of a rapidly expanding economy”. Alluding to 9 per cent economic growth over the past few years, he said it was “an improvement over the performance of any government in the past”.
Asked to identify the areas that would be focus of his attention during the remaining term of his Prime Ministership, the 76-year-old leader said his first priority was to see that India was insulated to the maximum possible from the ill effects of international financial crisis.
The second was to tackle terrorism and Left wing insurgency. The third was to ensure that various social welfare schemes, like the National Rural Employment programme, Rural Health Mission, the Urban Renewal Mission and the social security programme for people below the poverty line, were implemented effectively.
The fourth was to contain inflation while maintaining the momentum of the growth process.
On the Singur issue, he said it was not too late to find a negotiated settlement that would meet the concerns of the farmers who were agitating over the acquisition of land and the Tatas.