M A I N   N E W S

PM rules out resignation, mid-term elections over coal allocation issue
Makes conviction of 26/11 accused the benchmark to accept Zardari’s invitation to Pak
Raj Chengappa

On board the pm’s flight, August 31
While returning to Delhi on Friday afternoon after participating in the 16th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), where he was feted and honoured, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appeared intensely aware that the Parliamentary storm that raged when he left for the trip had far from abated and that he continued to face opprobrium from the Opposition parties over the so-called Coalgate issue. On board the special aircraft, however, he made it clear that he wasn’t going to throw in the towel over the issue and ruled out a mid-term poll.

On the foreign policy front, answering a question posed by The Tribune, the Prime Minister for the first time set the terms on which he would accept the invitation of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari to visit Pakistan, making conviction of the perpetrators of the Mumbai blast as the “crucial test” of Islamabad’s “sincerity” in curbing terror.

On the Coalgate issue, the Opposition parties, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been stalling Parliament demanding his resignation after the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India had opined that his government’s faulty policy of allocating coal mining blocks to private parties had resulted in a loss to the exchequer totalling a dizzying Rs 1.86 lakh crore. The Prime Minister had held charge of the Coal Ministry for several years during the period of the CAG review and Opposition members said that made him personally accountable.

Manmohan Singh brushed away a question about his resignation stating, “I wouldn’t be here if I was resigning.” But, as in Parliament, the Prime Minister refused to be drawn into what he termed, “a slanging match or a tu-tu main-main” with the Opposition and thought it better that “I keep a silence” in order to maintain the dignity of the PM’s office. He charged the BJP with adopting “diversionary tactics by disrupting Parliament” and appealed to it to “see good sense” and allow Parliament and government to function normally to tackle “the enormous problems” the country faces.

Rejecting speculation of a mid-term poll, the Prime Minister said, “We have been elected by the people of India for a five-year term. I sincerely hope that the BJP will respect the verdict of the people and let the Government function. In a Parliamentary system, the majority has the right to rule. If the BJP feels that the majority cannot be trusted to govern the affairs of this country and they would like it to run it their way, then that is a total negation of what democratic politics is about.”

About how to break the logjam in Parliament, Manmohan Singh said, “I sincerely hope and even now it is not too late that the BJP recognises that there is too much at stake... Let us concentrate on essentials (of governance) and let us wait till the next elections to test the fortunes of various political parties.”

On his meeting with the Pakistan President on the sidelines of the NAM summit in Tehran, Manmohan Singh said Zardari had again extended him an invitation to visit Pakistan and he had told him that he would do so “at a suitable time” and when a visit by him would result in “a substantial outcome” for improving relations between India and Pakistan.

Pressed by The Tribune to define what he meant by “suitable” and “substantial”, the Prime Minister stated, “I am very keen to visit Pakistan and am very grateful to President Zardari for inviting me to visit his country. But I also mentioned to him that we have to create a proper atmosphere. There must be a general feeling that Pakistan is doing all that it could to deal with terrorism directed against India from Pakistani soil. In this context, the court trial of those who have been charged with this heinous Mumbai massacre is a crucial test of Pakistan’s sincerity to bring the perpetrators of these horrible crimes to book. Now, on that point, President Zardari and Interior Minister Rehman Malik said they are doing all that is possible subject to the vagaries of the court process.”

The Prime Minister said he would also like to see progress on other outstanding issues between the two countries stating, “There are issues like Sir Creek, which he (Zardari) himself had told me when he visited Delhi (this April) that these are ‘doables’. I said that let us push that process further. In the meanwhile, the Foreign Ministers of the two countries will be meeting and they can explore the possibilities of what can be achieved to facilitate a purposeful visit of my tour to Pakistan.” 





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