Who was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressing when he chose to speak to a select group of five editors?
Was he addressing the nation at large or just the media (because he was upset with its coverage of events)?
Or, he plainly decided to send a missive to his own partymen –if one considers the message he chose to send to them?
That’s what some Congress party leaders think. They believe PM rather chose to speak to them–through these editors– to convey that “he isn’t leaving” and “no one has yet told me that the party wanted him to go.”
If the PM wanted to speak to countrymen, argued a Congress leader, he would have preferred to address the nation on radio and TV address. In fact, AICC functionaries had predicted that the PM had such a plan. In any case, he is due to address the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15.
As party leaders analyzed the PM’s remarks after going through the transcripts put out by his website, they couldn’t but conclude–he had a strong message for them.
That is the PM won’t be pressurised into vacating the chair by their demands for AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi to take over –unless he is explictly told by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi to leave.
Secondly, if the party thinks that the government is stinking because he had failed to act to stem the sleaze, he would jolly well crack the whip, and the Congress be ready for political and internal fallouts.
The PM’s remark that “nobody is ready for elections” is as much for his party as it is for the UPA allies and the opposition, Congress leaders say.
An assertive Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday blamed the opposition’s “clever propaganda to which some sections of the media had lent ear” for the perception that he was “lameduck” PM or his government was very corrupt or in comatose.On the contrary, he said, “I am not helpless” and he was here to “stay, perform and deliver” with the “complete backing” of the Congress party and its chief Sonia Gandhi –on all promises and programmes of the UPA.
During the 100-minute interaction with five editors at his official residence, a relaxed Prime Minister wanted to show he is confidently tackling questions on a wide range of issues including the talk that Rahul Gandhi should take his place, the Lokpal Bill, and corruption.
Asked about the perception that Sonia Gandhi “decided everything” and “you are helpless,” the PM responded with a chuckle. “I am not helpless. All the bad things that this government has done, I accept full responsibility.”
At the same, he chose to speak warmly about his equation with her. Congress leaders say it wasn’t without purpose that the PM said he has had maximum cooperation from her. “I have never felt that she is an obstacle to things we want to do.” Stating that the two of them meet one-on-one every week, Singh said Sonia Gandhi had done a superb job as party chief for about 15 years. But partymen say the PM may not be factually correct– because their meetings have been few and far between, compared to earlier times.
Asked about occasional statements from Congress functionaries that Rahul Gandhi should become PM, Singh said the Congress Party and its president had entrusted him with this job and he had not heard any contrary view from the Congress high command. The PM said, “Personally, if you ask me, the general proposition that younger people should take over, I think, is the right sentiment..whenever the party makes up its mind I will be very happy to step down, but so long as I am here I have a job to do.”
This is indeed a clear message for overenthusiastic Digvijaya Singh, who as AICC general secretary, never loses a single opportunity to take potshots at anyone in the government and seek to trigger a chorus for Rahul Gandhi to step in.
Even the PM’s acknowledgement that the 2G telecom scam, the CWG scam, black money and other perceived cases of corruption had caused genuine concern to the middle class (whom he assured that the guilty would be punished) had a hidden message for the Congress leaders too. “Corruption is a big issue. It has caught the imagination of the people, and we will deal with it.” His warning lines, as it seemed, was “truth will prevail” and his government’s performance will speak up soon. “We can deal with corruption, we can deal with black money but quite frankly it is wrong for anyone to assume there is a magic wand which will lead to an instant solution of these difficult societal problems. We need system reforms.”
Defending his own performance when the Congress has refused to do so openly, the PM said “In the situation that we are faced today, day in day out I think we are described as the most corrupt government. There have been aberrations. But quite frankly I have been a civil servant all my life, except the last 20 years. What surprises me is not that there are corrupt civil servants but that despite all the temptations, so many of our civil servants remain honest and lead frugal lives and this is the mainspring that we have to tap.We must punish the wrong doers but we must not paint all civil servants as babus and contemptuously describe them as a despicable class.”
Even his opening remark to the editors, he had a message for the Congress leaders who think he wasn’t good for the top job. He recalled what he learnt at Cambridge: “If out of 10 decisions that I take, 7 turn out to be right ex-post that would be considered an excellent performance. But, if you have a system which is required to perform 10 out of 10 cases, I think no system can be effective and satisfy that onerous condition.”
Answering criticism with the Congress party, the PM explained dialogue with civil society. He said, “It is out of my respect for members of the civil society that, whether it is Anna Hazare or Swami Ramdev, I myself took the trouble to interact with them. I assured them that we are committed to come with the bill in the Monsoon Session and it was not a commitment made under duress…I said we will introduce a Bill in Parliament but then it is for Parliament to pass it or amend it and that right cannot be taken away.”
On the controversy surrounding the decision of four Union ministers to meet yoga guru Ramdev at Delhi airport, the PM said it was not to “receive” him but the meeting had been arranged so that it could take place before he entered Delhi.On the whole, the PM’s central theme was he’s no pushover– if his party colleagues think that he’s one!
A day after the PM’s outreach, the Congress did not find nothing wrong in assertions by its leaders that Rahul Gandhi should become Prime Minister, but maintained that Manmohan Singh has been carrying out his responsibilities “seriously”.
“Rahul Gandhi should become Prime Minister is the aspiration and desire of Congress workers and if anyone is expressing it is not committing any crime,” party spokesperson Manish Tewari told reporters.