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Manmohan Singh's take on major issues

By George Iype in New Delhi
Last updated on: May 20, 2004 13:01 IST
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Calm, composed and articulate.

Manmohan Singh

The first press conference by India's prime minister-elect Manmohan Singh was a listener's delight.

From Indo-Pak relations to Ayodhya, from Gujarat riots to divestment, from fighting poverty to inter-linking of rivers: Singh talked on all issues with equal ease.

The 30-minute interaction was peppered with Urdu couplets, and a quote from Victor Hugo ("No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come") to drive home the message that the new prime minister means business.

Thirteen years back, Singh recalled, he ushered in economic reforms with a similar idea: emergence of India as a major economic power. "We have achieved substantial success. But we have a huge task ahead," he said.

As he wound up the interaction, the prime minister-elect emphasized that his government's mandate is to provide a strong and secular government, fighting poverty and illiteracy.

"Life is never free of contradictions," he philosophised.

Here is Manmohan Singh's take on major issues:

Government: Development will be the key priority. Will provide a strong, secular and purposeful government that benefits all sections of the society.

Economic reforms: India has a long way to go. Will give a human face to economics reforms, which are certainly needed to take the country forward. The basis of reforms should be social safety and overall development.

Divestment: Will not pursue divestment as an ideology (like the outgoing Vajpayee government). India needs a very strong public sector. PSUs like ONGC, GAIL and nationalised banks will not be touched. If they want to compete with private companies, they would be allowed to do so. If they cannot compete and are a drag on the nation's resources, then privatisation can be considered but after taking into view the concerns of its employees.

Farmers: I salute the farmers of India. Reforms would also mean addressing the plight of the farmers. Lack of proper prices for crops, drought in various parts of the country and lack relief and rehabilitation measures are the major problems affecting farmers. Will look after the farmers and the rural sector.

Poverty: I am sad that majority of our countrymen are poor. There has been a failure to provide power, roads and water in rural areas. Our government would try to address these issues. War against poverty has to be carried out relentlessly. Jawaharlal Nehru once said that India is suffering from war, want and exploitation.

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Infrastructure and industry: The country needs good infrastructure. Roads are a national priority. Rural connectivity is a priority for the government. Ours will be an investor and entrepreneur-friendly government.

Communalism: Unity and secularism will be the motto of the government. We can't afford divisive polity in India. The essence of Hinduism is that the path may be different, but the goal is the same. There is the need to end communal divisions. We need to create an atmosphere to allow our youth and entrepreneurs to thrive because youth need jobs and industry wants to prove that the 21st century will be India's.

Ayodhya: The matter is in the courts.

Gujarat Riots: Reflected poorly on India. We are concerned about the functioning of the judiciary in Gujarat. We have to ensure that communal riots do not happen in India. We will examine if compensation was not provided to the victims of the 1984 (anti-Sikh) riots in Delhi.

On the outgoing BJP-led government: Divisive forces were allowed free play. Nobody should be allowed to tinker with democracy. We will not discontinue the good works of the past government.

India-Pakistan relations: My government will seek the most friendly relations with Pakistan. We will take all measures to ensure a solution to solve the India-Pakistan problem. We look to the future with hope. Who thought that the Berlin Wall would fall some 15 years back? It will be our effort, without sacrificing our national security, to carry out a dialogue with Pakistan.
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George Iype in New Delhi