What to make out of Manmohan Singh’s press conference?


Prime Minister Shri Manmohan Singh (MMS) held a press conference on 3rd Jan. 2013. It was his only 3rd presser in 10 years of tenure. And Congress criticizes Modi for not speaking to media. He is not a PM yet! So no obligation. Anyways! Lets move ahead.

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Before taking questions PM listed the many achievements of his government, prominently economic growth of 9% in his 9 years at the helm (highest in India’s history). He attributed the recent decline to 5% levels to Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and Eurozone crisis. True these events have impacted growth, in a similar manner stupendous growth during UPA I (2004-09) was thanks to economic recovery after the 9/11 attack on USA (2002). So it works both ways. He himself used the word “sudden” growth in UPA I, which shows that it was not all due to UPA policies.

He also highlighted the “National Rural Employment Guarantee Act” & recently passed “Food Security Bill” as his govt.’s achievement. NREGA is nothing but a loot on country’s resources. It disincentives people to look for employment and has actually created a shortage of labour in rural / urban areas, leading to spike in daily wages. Lot has been said about FSB. Why will a farmer grow food crops when he is going to get it for free? Further, both these systems suffer from significant leakage.

He enumerated 3 things which he was concerned about: (i) Inability to generate employment in manufacturing sector (ii) Inability to control persistent inflation and (iii) Allegations of corruption.

Its a paradox that growth has taken place without generating employment opportunities.  People’s real incomes have been declining due to consistent price rise of essential commodities. Corruption has got to a new level. Billions of dollars of scams, the Bofors scam and other ones appear chillar compared to them.

He ended his speech by making himself un-available in race for UPA’s PM candidate (as if he would have got it) and ready to pass on the baton to younger generation.

The speech was followed by Q&A where he showed uncanny aggression, which doesn’t suit his personality. During the entire Q&A 5 times he mentioned that history / historians will be kinder to him than contemporary media. But on what basis sirji? Some of the key questions, his answers & analysis thereon:

1) On corruption: He said that most scams (2G, Coalgate) pertained to UPA I, depsite which people voted for Congress. Hence these issues not so important for electorate. This is clearly contrary to his speech wherein he showed concern about corruption during his tenure. People came to know about scams only during UPA II. So argument wrong. If people would have known earlier, UPA II would not have seen the light of day.

2) On Rahul: He said that Rahul has strong credentials to be nominated as PM candidate. Didn’t mention the credentials. Himself didn’t have answer. Family name is the only thing which Rahul has. But MMS was candid, that is indeed a very strong credential.

 3) On Price Rise being responsible for loss in state elections: He admitted that this could be a reason. Gave global gyan and blamed it on international commodity prices. Since when did prices of fruits / vegetables get impacted by international price movements. Said that inflation indexed NREGA payments have negated price rise. People in corporate sector have been getting increments which are far lower than consumer price inflation in the last few years. Should have admitted complete failure of UPA I & II in taming prices. In both govts. he had promised that prices would be brought under control in 100 days. People still waiting when those 100 days will end and prices will fall.

4) On Virbhadra Singh: He said that he didnt have the time to look into it. He acknolwged receipt of letter from Jaitley on this matter. How could he say he is not empowered to take decision in this matter. We sympathize with you sirji!

5) On remaining silent: He said that he does speak up whenever required in party forums etc. Didn’t complete the sentence. But nobody listens!

6) On Modi: He said Modi becoming PM will be disastrous for the country as he presided over massacre in Gujarat. He forgot that Congress govt. presided over a genocide killing people (3 times that killed in Gujarat) of his own community in 1984. And would have never apologized for it, had he not spoken about it in 2005. Next day in a survey by Times of India, 67% respondents rated his press conference as “disastrous”. The word seems to be haunting him and will haunt him for life.

7) On dual power center: MMS said that Sonia as UPA Chairman & Congress President plus himself as PM worked very well. Would have been better if he would have highlighted that the major cause of all issues being faced by the country is this dual power center. Family takes credit of all so called good decisions (NREGA, FSB) and washes its hands of controversial decisions (Ordinance on convicted netas). Power without responsibility is what the family likes.

8) On how does aam aadmi perceive him: He said that he is the same person he was years ago, not changed and has tried his best to serve the country. MMS emphasized that he has never used his office to reward his friends / relatives. Probably the first time he made such a direct statement. Wanted to shield himself against corruption allegations. Because even people who used to vouch for his integrity have expressed doubts as to why he has allowed these scams to happen.

9) On being a weak PM and indicted by Supreme Court for acts of commission / commission: MMS put up a brave front and said he believed he was a strong PM. He felt history would be kinder to him. Essentially he has no hopes from contemporary media / public. Only if he would have acted and not been a “yes man” history would have really remembered him as a “gutsy” PM.

Full transcript of the speech and Q&A is available online:

http://www.firstpost.com/politics/full-text-manmohan-singhs-last-press-conference-as-indias-pm-1320837.html

http://nvonews.com/2014/01/03/full-transcript-of-prime-minister-manmohan-singhs-press-conference/

What to make out of this speech and Q&A? It was more like a farewell speech. MMS tried to portray that he did whatever he could in his capacity and given the coalition compulsions relating to peripheral areas as he quoted. These peripheral compromises seem to have cost the country a bomb. Basically tried to get some sympathy and project govt. achievements but failed miserably. Also appeared a bit more political than what his image is, not his usual self.

The presser showed clearly his shortcomings as a decisive leader. Leader needs to take credit as well as own up mistakes, not give excuses. He has a honest man image, but will be remembered for biggest scams in his tenure. Also reflects on his capabilities, as he wasn’t able to detect / stop these scams. A modern day “Dhritarashtra”.

He also kick started the Congress campaign through this speech. His speech instead of giving confidence could actually turn away Congress voters. He was never a leader, never a good orator. He was a technocrat, economist, who seemed to have failed to curb the economic slowdown (of course international factors didn’t help), but he didn’t put his foot down on profligate measures like NREGA / FSB.  He has been credited with economic liberalization of India as Finance Minister in 1991-1996. This 10 year tenure has even negated the good work done by him then.

How will people remember him? Your thoughts please…….

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