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PM needs to meet media more often

Saturday July 02, 2011 03:41:47 PM, Amulya Ganguli, IANS

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Notwithstanding the confidence and good humour with which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh interacted with a group of editors recently, he could not but have noticed how the question of being a lame duck continued to pursue him.

In reply to the same insinuation last February, he had said, "Whatever some people may say, that we are a lame duck government, that I am a lame duck prime minister, we take our job very seriously and we are here to govern and to govern effectively". Yet, four months later, the same charge is levelled against him again, suggesting that his governance has not been all that effective.

Although he deflected the imputation this time by saying that it was the result of "clever propaganda" by the opposition and that "ultimately, truth will prevail", there is little doubt that in the absence of determined steps to remove the impression of drift, the accusation will haunt him. It is obviously not very reassuring to the general public when a prime minister has to deny the same charge twice in four months.

However, as the rest of the press conference showed, he seemed as certain of continuing in his present position - "I have a job to do" - as before when he also said that "I have never thought in terms of giving up halfway". At the same time, the fact that he has to fend off questions of Rahul Gandhi stepping into his shoes is not an aspect of Congress politics which enhances the prime minister's standing.

This is all the more so because Digvijay Singh has again brought up the topic despite having been ticked off earlier for saying that the heir-apparent is now mature enough to take charge.

For the present, of course, Manmohan Singh says that he is unaware of any "contrary view from the Congress high command" about his continuation as prime minister, with Sonia Gandhi being "most supportive". But, at the same time, his hope that the party "makes up its mind" on his relinquishing his office suggests a marginal shift from his comment last February that he intends to "stay the course".

Even if the air remains cloudy on his effectiveness and successor, the Congress Working Committee's decision that the prime minister must meet the media more often is an acknowledgment that the government is not putting forward its views as often and as effectively as it should. As a result, the opposition and the media can be said to have a field day.

From this standpoint, the press conference was a success for it clarified several points. For instance, Manmohan Singh's willingness to let the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) be covered by the Lokpal refuted civil society's allegation that he was "scared" of being brought under the ombudsman's ambit. However, the reference to dissenting voices in the cabinet since the matter could not be seen in terms of the present occupant alone put the issue in the correct perspective.

The air was also cleared about the government's dealings with Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev which had been suggestive of uncertainty and even panic on its part. The prime minister's view that the Gandhian was being controlled by "other forces" who wanted "confrontation" explained why the two fell out despite the earlier accommodative attitude which led to the formation of a joint committee on the Lokpal bill. As for the yoga guru, the "effect" which large crowds have on him was held responsible by the prime minister for the breakdown in communications between Baba Ramdev and the government.

Such explanations from Manmohan Singh go a long way to dispel misgivings and misperceptions, something which the articulations of even senior ministers or high-ranking party spokespersons fail to do. For instance, his observation that "development is the master remedy" and that he has persuaded Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh to "reverse" some of his positions because "poverty is the biggest polluter", shows that he remains committed to the reforms which he initiated two decades ago even though the pace has slowed down.

By ascribing the deceleration to the Bharatiya Janata Party's habit of "playing politics", for instance on the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the raising of the FDI (foreign direct investment) cap to 49 percent in the insurance sector, he has put the ball in the opposition's court.

On foreign policy, too, some of his comments were highly significant, such as that America's withdrawal from Afghanistan will "hurt us" since "no one knows what is going to happen in Afghanistan" or that "we hope Pakistan will leave Kashmir alone" or that China is "far ahead of us" in military matters. No one but the prime minister can be as forthright on these sensitive topics. It will be a definite gain for the country, therefore, if he keeps his promise to meet the media more often.

Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at









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