Declaring that he “had a job to do and was not quitting”, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday responded to questions on corruption and other issues confronting his 21-month-old United Progressive Alliance (UPA) II government, announced that “wrongdoers will not escape” and added that the country will witness the next round of economic reforms soon. “You have my assurance that the wrongdoers will not escape,” Manmohan Singh assured television editors and representatives of some international news channels at an interaction, viewed as a major media exercise before the crucial budget session of parliament beginning Feb 21.
During the 70-minute interaction at the Panchvati conference centre of his official residence, Manmohan Singh calmly answered even the most critical and pointed questions and said the government was trying its best to combat corruption.
Answering a question on whether he was disappointed over the delays in the CWG scam probe, he said the government was trying its “very best” but there was a due process of law. “Sometimes it is frustrating… it takes time.”
“I have never felt like quitting, I will stay the course,” Manmohan Singh, 78, said, answering another query.
“I never felt like resigning because I had a job to do..We have a lot of unfinished business to accomplish,” he said, adding that he had “never thought of giving up half way”.
The prime minister said that in an alliance government, “there is a coalition dharma”.
He said he was not afraid of appearing before any committee, including a joint parliamentary committee (JPC), as many people were saying.
The prime minister denied he was blocking the JPC probe into the 2G spectrum scandal demanded by the opposition. There is “entirely wrong impression that I was blocking the agreement on a JPC. I have always said my conduct should be, like Caesar’s wife, above suspicion”.
Manmohan Singh clarified that former communications minister A. Raja decided on the allocation of 2G spectrum licences in 2008 on the basis of past telecom policies and the issue was “never brought to me or the cabinet”.
“In allocation of 2G spectrum, the issue of licences was never brought to me or the cabinet. That was the decision of the (then communication) minister,” he said, adding that Raja had assured him of “complete transparency” on the issue.
The prime minister was responding to a question on the first-come-first-served policy of granting 2G spectrum licences that Raja had adopted.
“I wrote a letter to Raja on Nov 2, 2007. I listed a number of issues that you must look into and (ensure) they are dealt (with) in (an) equitable, fair and transparent manner. One of the issues that I asked him to look into was the possibility from the legal and technical angle of having an auction of spectrum,” Manmohan Singh said.
The upcoming budget will see reforms, the prime minister said, stressing that the government has its economic agenda in place.
“The economic agenda is there. There is the food security bill, the Right to Education (RTE) Act is now a reality, the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) reform is a reality, there have been reforms in the National Rural Health Mission.”
“The same way we are going to have a fresh wave in infrastructure investment with the help of the new Public Private Partnership model. These are not big reforms and I hope in the current budget you will see the reform agenda that our government has,” he added.
The budget will be presented Feb 28.
The prime minister said the government will not give up on the face of difficulties.
“We have not given up. We will persist. There are difficulties particularly when parliament is not allowed to function,” he said.
Manmohan Singh listed stabilisation of Indian economy during the global meltdown as the biggest achievement of his government but mentioned the series of corruption scams as the greatest regret of his tenure.
Asked whether he hoped parliament would function normally in the upcoming budget session as the opposition was adamant on a JPC, Manmohan Singh said: “We are making all efforts to deal with the issues. We hope for a solution.”
He said whatever the domestic weaknesses, “we should not create an atmosphere where the country loses confidence as the world really marvels at India’s growth and its functioning democracy”.
He also appealed to the media to report things factually and objectively and not create a perception that “nothing good is happening in the country” in a way that it erodes the “self-confidence of the people of India”.