Transcript of PM’s on-board Press Interaction enroute to Delhi from Tehran
Opening Statement of Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh: Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, I came to Tehran to attend the NAM Summit. My speech at the Plenary Session of the Summit has already been circulated and you must have gone through it.
In addition I had a meeting with the Supreme Leader, and also with President Ahmadinejad to review the state of our bilateral relations. I was particularly struck by what the Supreme Leader told me about his interest and involvement in Indian affairs. He recalled the influence that Mahatma Gandhi had on him, the role that Jawaharlal Nehru played in India’s freedom struggle, his visit to India in 1980-81, meetings with Mrs. Gandhi, visiting various other parts of our country including Hyderabad.
And what I was more struck by was his statement that a country of India’s great diversity, different languages, different religions, has greater chances of achieving its national goals, if there is growing respect for tolerance and respect for diversity. He said that is the way of the future, human civilization is moving in that direction, and what India is trying to achieve is truly remarkable.
In addition, with President Ahmadinejad I reviewed the state of our bilateral relations. And there is lot of interest in doing business with India and getting Indian investment in infrastructure. There are of course difficulties imposed by western sanctions, but subject to that I think we will explore ways and means of developing our relations with Iran.
I had also on the sidelines meetings with President Zardari of Pakistan, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, the Prime Minister of Nepal, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, President Morsi of Egypt, the Crown Prince of Jordan, and several other world leaders, including the new Prime Minister of Syria who called on me and explained to me his Government’s point of view about developments in Syria.
I think all these matters have been reported to you and you have been briefed about that by the Foreign Secretary. If there are any questions, I will be happy to answer them.
I am sorry I forgot to mention my meeting with President Karzai of Afghanistan.
Foreign Secretary briefed us about your excellent meeting with the Supreme Leader. Sir, he was very appreciative of India’s 2000 year old relationship with Iran. Would you like to elaborate on your meeting with the Supreme Leader whether he sought your intervention in resolving issues with any other country?
Manmohan Singh: There is no issue of India intervening to solve any problems in which Iran is involved. It was a philosophical discussion. The relations between our two countries which go back to centuries old ties of culture, civilization, language and religion; the continuing relevance of what India is trying to achieve — a country of composite culture trying to make a sense is of diversity of our people, to create a sense of unity amidst diversity. He was very appreciative of this.
Sir, har taraf se kafi kharab sanket aa rahe hai. Zee Network ne ek initiative shuru kiya hai, jiska nam hai Zee Positive. Aap Bhaarat ki growth ke liye kha 3 badi cheezen positive dekhte hai. [Sir, what three things do you consider as positive for India's growth?]
Manmohan Singh: Dekhiye aapko es baat ka pata hi hai ki duniya mai bahut bada aarthik sankat hai, es aarthik sankat ke hote huai bhi hamari economy 6.5% growth rate maintain kar rahi hai. Aur aaj ke es mushkil samay mai jabki America jaisa mulk bhi 2% ki baat nahi karte, Europe main 0% growth rate ki baat ho rahi hai.
[You know that there is a global economic crisis. Despite this economic crisis we have maintained our growth rate at 6.5%. At such a difficult time when even a country such as the USA does not talk about 2%, and Europe is talking of a growth rate of 0%...] we should count our blessings. Even then it will be our effort to improve upon the growth performance of 6.5% by creating an environment conducive to growth of savings, domestic investment, fortunately our domestic savings and investment rates are still very high and if we improve the climate of investment in infrastructure sector, power, roads, ports and railways, telecommunication I am confident, we will be able to given a big push forward to our growth processes.
President Zardari again invited you to Pakistan and you had accepted it and you said that you will visit at a suitable time and would like a substantial outcome of that visit? In your opinion, what would be the substantial outcome and a suitable time?
Manmohan Singh: Well, I am very keen to visit Pakistan and am very grateful to President Zardari for inviting me to visit that 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 do to deal with terrorism directed against India from Pakistani soil, and in this context the court trial of those who have been charged with this heinous crime of Bombay massacre. I think this 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. I also said that there are issues like Sir Creek, which he himself had told me when he visited Delhi for going to Ajmer Sharif that these are ‘doables’. I said that let us push that process further and in the meanwhile Foreign Ministers of the two countries will be meeting and they can explore the possibilities what can be achieved to facilitate a purposeful visit of my tour to Pakistan.
The Opposition has literally held the Parliament in hostage demanding your resignation, will you be resigning? If not, then do you plan to plan to break the log jam?
Manmohan Singh: Well, if I were resigning I wouldn’t have been here. I hope the Opposition will see sense. We are a parliamentary democracy. 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 a right to rule. If the BJP feels that the majority cannot be trusted to govern the affairs of this country and they would like to run it their way that is a total negation of what the democratic politics is about. I sincerely hope and even now it is not too late that the BJP recognizes that there is too much at stake. We all have an obligation, in Opposition as well as Government, both should work together to take this parliamentary democracy, of which we are genuinely proud of, in tackling the problems of our country. Our country faces enormous problems — look at what is happening in Northeast, attempts to divide communities, to create gap between North and South, what happened in some southern cities. Also terrorism remains a serious threat. In addition Naxalism is a growing menace. Our country has done well despite all these odds but we cannot assume that we can continue to make a mess of the processes of governance and yet the country will continue to grow, that we will continue to create jobs for the young people. Let us concentrate on essentials and let us wait till the next elections to test the fortunes of various political parties.
Are you giving any monetary assistance—economic bail out—to Mamta Banerjee. She is expecting some thing from you?
Manmohan Singh: We are very keen to help all State Governments which have financial problems and West Bengal is no exception to this rule. We have been discussing with Finance Minister and Chief Minister of West Bengal, the practical, pragmatic and viable ways and means of helping to tide over these difficulties.
In your NAM address you touched two points—one was food security and another was the cyber terrorism. On food security, you said that you would look for international cooperation. What kind of international cooperation are you looking for? For cyber terrorism on our domestic front, we need more domestic legal framework because we are not having any comprehensive cyber policy in our country.
Manmohan Singh: Well I agree. You are right. I have been asking my National Security Advisor to zero in on the gaps in evolving a viable policy to tackle the menace of cyber terrorism. As far as food security is concerned, we would like the world to cooperate more in increasing agricultural productivity, particularly in the countries of Africa where there is enormous scope for increasing agricultural production and our India-Africa Forum Summit seeks to use India’s capabilities to help them increase productivity whenever there is demand. At the same time, technology can be an important source of increasing food production and also in weather forecasting, developing early warning systems in case of floods or droughts. Biotechnology also has an important role to play. Nations of the world should cooperate with each other to make a success of biotechnology in increasing food production. In the 21st century, use of water is going to be the most important issue and a critical input in development processes. How do we economise use of water? How to use modern technologies for irrigation like sprinkler irrigation as against flow irrigation? Israel has come up with new methods. So there is a whole gamut of issues that the NAM countries may deliberate and cooperate and NAM countries can enlarge their mandate. They can cooperate with other parts of the world on the issue of increasing food production.
Sir, in your second term as Prime Minister, you have been bogged down by many constraints, be it coalition politics, protests on the streets or be it the parliamentary deadlock over issues. Do you have any regrets. Could you tell us 5 things that you would have wanted to do but you have not been able to do till now?
Manmohan Singh: Well we would have certainly liked to lay the foundation of 9 percent growth rate but international events have not helped and also lack of cohesiveness in our domestic politics was also a factor. There have been, for example, difficulties in giving effect to Goods and Services Tax. The Goods and Services Tax, as has been agreed upon, can lead to increase the GDP of the country by 1-2%. It will streamline the tax system, minimize scope for evasion. But there are problems because we are not able to push through. Also I would very much have liked, that the opposition would give us a chance to work in a manner that the basic problems of India like poverty, hunger, disease can be tackled effectively. Unfortunately, from one crisis to the other, the BJP has chosen to disrupt Parliament. These are all diversionary tactics. One has 24 hrs at one’s disposal. If one is preoccupied all the time with handling these diversionary tactics, naturally it affects the ability and capacity of the government to attend to its more fundamental tasks , which I am always saying is to grapple with the mass poverty and ignorance and disease which still affect millions and millions of our citizens.
My question is limited to NAM Summit. The few conservative media block repeatedly claimed that Iran is a rogue state with nuclear capabilities. Do you see NAM Summit as a slap? If not, why not?
Manmohan Singh: NAM Summit is not meant to be a slap to any one country. NAM has a set agenda. This was the 16th Summit. Iran has been chosen as the Chairperson. Therefore it is only appropriate that the Summit should take place in Iran which is a very important country in our region and in the developing world. The Iranians have a very proud civilization. They have many things to contribute to the world. Therefore, meeting in Tehran has no more or no less significance than the fact that Iran be a member of NAM in good standing.
Political logjam ki baat ho rahi hai. Pahle to 2G scam abh phir coal gate par opposition ne Prime Minister par attack karne ki koshish ki. Kya aapko lagta hai ki is tarike ki political instability par rahte huye bhi Lokpal mein Pradhanmantri ko rakhna chahiye? Kya sarkar is bill ko paas karaane ki koshish karegi? [There is talk of political logjam. First there was 2G Scam and now coalgate using which the opposition has tried to attack the PM. Do you think that given this instability, the PM should be covered under the Lokpal. Will the government try to pass this bill?]
Manmohan Singh: I have always been in favour of bringing the Prime Minister within the scope of being judged by the Lokpal. I have said that many times and I repeat that I am not afraid of myself or any Prime Minister being brought within the purview of the jurisdiction of Lokpal. This is a matter now it is before the select committee of Lok Sabha. Then, thereafter, if they approve the bill, may be if they make any amendment it will have to go back to the Lok Sabha. But the bill is now in the court of Parliament, whatever the outcome, we will respect the outcome.
Sir, you said that you would appeal to the BJP’s good sense to stop the political logjam. Clearly that’s not working. Sir, do you have any other way of overcoming the logjam. Do you have any way of taking this forward, because otherwise we will see no Parliament between now and the winter session?
Manmohan Singh: Well I sincerely hope that there are people, welcoming people in all political parties and that they would all have the good sense to recognize that what is happening in our Parliament is not something which is doing credit to anyone. Beyond that, at this stage, I am not going to do anything.
Getting back to Pakistan, is India letting Hafiz Saeed off the hook?
Manmohan Singh: We are not letting anyone off the hook. Whosoever is guilty of crimes, terrorist crimes directed against India should be brought to justice. So I am not saying that anyone should not be brought to justice.
Mulayam Singh Yadav aaj sansad main dharna de rahe hain gair UPA gair NDA partners ke saath. Kya ye Congress ki taraf se kiya gaya ek diversionary tactic hai jaisa ki BJP aarop laga rahi hai ya apko lagta hai ki desh main madyhavadi chunavon ke liye mahol ban chukka hai aur third front ek possibility hai. [Mulayam Singh Yadav is on a dharna in Parliament today with non-UPA, non-NDA partners. Is this a diversionary tactics by the Congress, as the BJP is alleging? Or do you think there is an atmosphere of midterm elections and the Third Front is a possibility.]
Manmohan Singh: I don't know what he has said as I have been busy for the last three days.
Sir, young leader Rahul Gandhi has expressed his intention to assume a larger role in the party and the government. Sir, what role do you visualise for Rahul Gandhi after this Monsoon Session.
Manmohan Singh: Well I have always been of the view that Rahul Gandhi should play a more active role in the government. I have invited him to be a member of the cabinet on several occasions and I sincerely hope that this time he would consider very seriously. But I have no inside knowledge of what he is planning to do.
In Kudankulam more than 3000 sedition cases are against the people those who are agitating against the Government. Or foreign firms are involved.
Manmohan Singh: I have not read anything on this. These cases must have been registered by the local administration. But I am not very well informed about it.
The five things that currently give you sleepless nights: Is it the problem in Assam, is the state of the economy, is it the impasse in Parliament?
Manmohan Singh: Well, Let me say that the development in Parliament are a source of great concern to me. But when I look to the future of our country, the way things have gone in Assam, there is definite tension that has disturbed peace in Assam, (inaudible) this certainly cause concern. Similarly, the fact that thousands and thousands of people have continued to move from various parts of the country particularly from deep south, Bangalore, Hyderabad, have chosen because for some reason or the other they don’t feel secure, there going back to North East is not good for the promotion of national unity and national cohesion. I have also said that the growing communal tensions is yet another area where I sincerely believe that all right thinking people should sit together and control this menace.
I have also said that Naxalism is yet another menace which if not controlled can hurt both our national cohesion as well as the rate of economic development of our country. If you look at the Naxalite affected areas, all these areas are very rich in mineral wealth. If that mineral wealth of India is to be exploited for the purposes of the benefit of people then you need peace, and therefore, if Naxalism is not properly controlled, if political parties do not work together to deal with this menace, there will ...be normal growth process of the country.
Question on JPC
Manmohan Singh: That is for JPC to decide.
Why are you allowing the BJP to set the political agenda?
I have to maintain the dignity of the office of the Prime Minister. I can’t get into a tu-tu main-main slanging match with other political leaders. So it is better, as I said earlier, that I keep silence.
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