Thursday, February 17, 2011

The pet phrases that PM used

(This was part of the report used in the DNA Mumbai edition on February 17, 2011)

In his hour-long interaction with television news channel editors on Wednesday morning, prime minister Manmohan Singh resorted to the word 'functional' about six times. He said that India had a 'functioning democracy' and 'functioning government' twice in the first 20 minutes or so. And used 'functioning democracy' another two times in reply to questions about developments in west Asia, emphasising that India was not in the business of advising other countries. He had however said, 'We welcome the dawn of democracy' in west Asia.

He hit out against the media saying that making out there were nothing but scams in the country was wrong because it would undermine the self-confidence of the country. And he also asked the media that they should be accurate with facts whatever might be their opinion about them. 'Facts are sacred,' Singh said. He said it is wrong to project that India is a 'scam-driven country.'

He was also assertive in defending himself personally: “It is entirely a wrong impression that I was blocking the JPC because I did not want to appear before the JPC.” He reminded that he had offered to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and that he was not afraid of appearing before any committee.

Asked if there was any moment when he wanted to throw in the towel, he was unambiguous: “I never felt like resigning. I have a job to do. We have a lot of unfinished business. I will stay the course”, he said.

Singh saw nothing wrong in companies which had obtained 2G spectrum selling their equity for enormous amounts compared to the licence fee thay they had paid. He said that diluting equity to raise funds was one of the ways to raise funds and there was nothing wrong with it.

When asked whether UPA2 was able to press on with the reforms agenda – what the questioners had in mind was economic reforms – Singh said that the food security bill was coming up, and that government had already brought in right to education and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

On tackling inflation, he said that his government would not want to do anything on inflation that hampers economic growth. In response to another question on how food inflation would impact the poor, he said that a 'social safety net' was in place through the NREGA, that the public distribution system (PDS) have not been raised since 2002, and that the minimum wages under the NREGA would be adjusted to the inflation levels. He said that there will be an infrastructure development fund soon.

The economist in him was at an advantage most of the time, but he tied himself up in knots over the issue of 'notional loss' that the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in its report on 2G spectrum allotment. He gave the examples of subsidy given to fertilisers, to kerosene and argued that this could be used to compute a notional loss based on a comparison with the revenue lost if the market prices had their sway. This drew sharp criticism both from the BJP and the CPI-M and it was interpreted that he was comparing the loss made in spectrum allotment to the money spent in the form of subsidies though Singh could turn around and say, “That was not what I meant”.

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