Outspoken PM wins no new friends

Outspoken PM wins no new friends

His candid answers Wednesday to several questions -- and wavering replies to some -- only sparked more criticism from an increasingly aggressive opposition, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

"There was nothing new in the interaction," BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman told IANS, a day after the prime minister met select editors. "We get the impression of a defensive prime minister, evading responsibility for major issues like the 2G scam."

Her reference was to the second general spectrum allocation scandal that has badly dented the Congress-led government's image and sent a key MP and a former cabinet minister from an ally to prison. The BJP pulled up Manmohan Singh for evading the role of Textiles Minister Dayanidhi Maran in the scam.

Sitharaman accused Manmohan Singh of trying to put the blame on the opposition for his government's failure to reach an agreement with the civil society on framing a strong Lokpal to battle corruption.

"And his comments on the economy are contrary to what the ordinary people experience -- steep price rise and inflation," she said. With a slew of corruption scandals enveloping his government, Manmohan Singh insisted that the cases of graft involving his party and its allies were aberrations.

He admitted that corruption had emerged as a big issue but argued that the bulk of civil servants were honest. The prime minister also promised to work towards a national consensus on the Lokpal bill and added that he had no objection to being covered within its ambit -- although his cabinet colleagues held a different view.

S. Ramachandran Pillai of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) felt that the prime minister's aim behind meeting select editors Wednesday was to "wriggle out of the internal dissent and difficulties he is facing in the party".

"His explanations and justifications about the ommissions and commissions of the government will not carry any credibility," he added. "The ground reality is that the government has utterly failed to tackle the major problems like corruption, prise rise and agrarian crisis."

Analyst N. Bhaskar Rao of the Centre for Media Studies (CMS) appeared to agree. "The prime minister must have been more forthcoming," Rao said. "The proactive angle expected from a PM was not there. He tried to avoid tough answers."

Rao felt that Manmohan Singh, who personally enjoys a reputation of a honest politician, could have earned brownie points had be promised to axe those ministers facing corruption charges.

"His criticism of the media was unexpected," he added. "The prime minister should have rather thanked the media (for exposing corruption). "If people are talking about corruption, the credit goes to media."

In an unusual criticism of the fourth estate, the otherwise soft-spoken prime minister accused the Indian media of being the accuser, prosecutor and judge. Anil Bariwal of the think tank National Election Watch-Association of Democratic Reforms also faulted the prime minister for not giving "clear answers".

"There was hardly anything new or substantial that could be derived from what the prime Minister said. The people expect concrete action. "It was more of an image makeover exercise, but the fact is that the image will be taken care of if the real issues are addressed."


Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari disagreed. "This was not an effort to repair the image of Manmohan Singh. His image has been always clean and his integrity unquestioned," Tewari told IANS.  "His statements clearly show that the government was taking important steps to ensure economic growth, curb inflation and implement pro-people schemes."

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