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Is the PM shy of speaking in Parliament?

Last updated on: August 27, 2010 14:42 IST

Is the PM shy of speaking in Parliament?

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On August 25, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh vehemently defended the passage of the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill 2010, it was only the eighth time he had addressed Parliament since the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance took charge of the government for the second time in May 2009.

Rediff.com takes a look at what the prime minister has said in the temple of democracy, and the background against which he spoke.

In comparison, in the first 16 months of UPA-I, Dr Singh had addressed Parliament 18 times.

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Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a news conference in New Delhi
Photographs: B Mathur/Reuters
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'There's a sense of unity between government and Opposition'

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Seeing a 'new beginning' in the government-Opposition relations after a bitterly fought general election, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on June 9, 2009 said his government favoured bipartisanship on issues of national interest and sought to reach out to non-United Progressive Alliance-ruled states, promising not to discriminate against them.

In his first speech in both Houses of Parliament after the UPA coalition won a decisive majority in May 2009, he said the mandate was for stability and continuity and the ruling side has accepted it with humility.

'There is no scope for bragging,' he said in his 45-minute long reply to the debate on the motion of thanks to the President's address to the joint session in which he noted that the 'underlying sense of unity' in the speeches of the then Leader of the Opposition L K Advani and other leaders including Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav Rashtriya Janata Dal leader and Lalu Prasad.

In keeping with the mood, Dr Singh did not touch on the contentious women's reservation bill that had been opposed by the Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Janata Dal-United, public sector divestment over which key allies like the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Trinamool Congress expressed reservations, or Advani's demand for an inquiry commission on the Mumbai terror attacks.

Dr Singh's speech sent a message of 'zero tolerance' against terror to Pakistan while promising to meet 'more than half way' if its leadership took 'strong and effective' steps to prevent terrorism directed against India.

He also noted that some of the attacks on Indian students in Australia were racist in nature and expressed his readiness to 'engage in a high-level dialogue' with the Australian leadership.

Seeking the Opposition's cooperation, Dr Singh noted, 'We must have a long-term vision if India is to achieve developmental objectives.'


Image: Dr Singh arrives in Parliament on the opening day of the Budget session, July 2, 2009
Photographs: B Mathur/Reuters
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'Action on terror should not be linked to composite dialogue'

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Under attack from the Bharatiya Janata Party for the outcome of his meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on July 17, 2009, said the starting point for 'any meaningful dialogue' would depend on actions by Islamabad to end cross-border terror and hoped there would be 'forward movement' in the coming months.

Making a statement in the Lok Sabha against the backdrop of the BJP's charge of reversal of India's long-standing position on Balochistan, Dr Singh said, 'Action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and therefore cannot await other developments.'

But the BJP was not satisfied, with the then Leader of the Opposition L K Advani charging that India had 'conceded and capitulated'. He then led a BJP walkout from the House.

Dr Singh, who met Gilani at Sharm-el Sheikh in Egypt a few days before this speech, said he had conveyed to the Pakistani leader that 'sustained, effective and credible action needs to be taken not only to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attack to justice but also to shut down the operations of terrorist groups so as to prevent any future attacks.'

Underlining that India seeks cooperative relations with Pakistan and 'engagement is the only way forward to realise the vision' of a stable and prosperous South Asia, he said India is 'willing to go more than half way provided Pakistan creates the conditions for a meaningful dialogue.'

'It has been and remains our consistent position that the starting point of any meaningful dialogue with Pakistan is a fulfillment of their commitment, in letter and spirit, not to allow their territory to be used in any manner for terrorist activities against India,' Dr Singh insisted.

'I conveyed to him (Gilani) the strong sentiments of the people of India over the issue of terrorism, especially the terrorist attacks in Mumbai,' the prime minister said.

After Dr Singh's statement, Advani said delinking of terrorism from the composite dialogue had been the 'demand of Pakistan' and that the Indian government had conceded it just seven months after the Mumbai attacks.


Image: Pakistan PM Yousuf Reza Gilani greets Dr Singh at the NAM summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, July 16, 2009
Photographs: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters
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'Mere anti-terror rhetoric by Pakistan won't help'

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On July 29, 2009, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asserted that India expected Pakistan to sincerely honour its commitment not to allow its territory to be used for terror against India.

Intervening in the debate on the Indo-Pak joint statement in Lok Sabha, the prime minister said, 'It is in India's interest that Pakistan has a stable government. However, relations with Pakistan will not improve until Islamabad does not follow its commitment to fight terror in letter and spirit.'

'We will spare no expense, no effort to defend the nation's sovereignty and integrity,' the prime minister said, noting that despite all the friends New Delhi has, the harsh reality of the modern world is that when it comes to matters relating to the country's national security it would have to depend on itself.

Detailing the joint statement, Dr Singh said that he had told his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani not to make a distinction between terrorist organisations and that mere rhetoric by Islamabad that it was a victim of terrorism itself does not help.

'We are not afraid to discuss issues with them. But they must show the same strong and sustained effort against terrorists. We do not dilute our positions and our resolve to defeat terrorism by talking to our neighbours. Pakistan must defeat terrorism before being consumed by it,' Dr Singh said, adding that the impression that talks will continue irrespective of whether it takes action against terror organisations operating against India or not was incorrect.

In apparent reference to the controversial mention of Balochistan in the joint statement, Dr Singh said, 'We know we are not doing anything wrong and ours is an open book. We have nothing to hide and we are willing to discuss anything.'


Image: Dr Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Reza Gilani at the SAARC summit in Thimphu
Photographs: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters
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'We are taking firm action to curb Naxal violence'

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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on March 5, 2010, said his government had drawn up an integrated plan to tackle the Naxalite problem in consultation with the states and was initiating firm action against the Naxals.

This speech was delivered before the Naxals, in a series of murderous attacks, killed scores of Central Reserve Police Force personnel in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, and masterminded the derailing of the Mumbai-bound Gyaneshwari Express near Jhargram in West Bengal, in which 145 people lost their lives.

The PM told the Lok Sabha while replying to the debate on the motion of thanks to the President's address that 'In some places we have received reports of the use of children (by Naxals); we have drawn up an integrated plan to tackle the problem in consultation with the states.'

'We are taking firm action to curb Naxal violence. It is unfortunate that they are targeting innocent people and destroying roads, power lines and other essential infrastructure.'

Pointing out that a number of concrete steps had been taken to strengthen and reorient the security infrastructure to meet the growing threats of terrorism, insurgency and communalism, he said, 'We have remained in close touch with state governments to evolve a common and practical approach.'


Image: Security personnel carry a coffin of a policeman killed in a Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh
Photographs: Pawan Kumar/Reuters
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'Attacks won't deter India's commitment to Afghanistan'

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On February 26, 2010, Taliban terrorists, in a strike targeted against Indians in Afghanistan, attacked hotels in Kabul, killing six Indians and injuring 10 other Indian nationals who were present in the war-torn country for developmental activities.

A few days later, Prime Minister Singh told Parliament (on March 5, 2010) that the 'cowardly act' in Kabul 'will not bend India's determination to help Afghanistan.'

'Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has assured me that steps will be taken to ensure the security of Indians there,' he said, while addressing the Lok Sabha as part of the 'motion of thanks' protocol.

Contending that dialogue was the only way forward with Pakistan, Dr Singh said the decision to hold foreign-secretary level talks with Pakistan was a 'calculated' one, but there can be no meaningful discussion till terror from there is ended.

Denying that he had sought mediation by Saudi Arabia on a visit to Riyadh, he asserted in the Lok Sabha that all problems with Pakistan can be resolved bilaterally if it adopted a 'reasonable' attitude in dealing with terror elements which target India.

'Our policy towards Pakistan is consistent, cautious and realistic,' Dr Singh said in reply to the debate on the motion of thanks to the President's address to Parliament during which he lambasted the Bharatiya Janata Party for spreading disinformation.

He specifically rebutted charges levelled by senior BJP leader L K Advani that the government was talking to Pakistan under US pressure.

To buttress his point, he said the US and the erstwhile Soviet Union, even at the height of the Cold War, had kept communication channels between them open.


Image: Dr Singh with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai
Photographs: B Mathur/Reuters
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'Women's bill is not anti-minority or anti-SC/ST'

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On March 9, 2010, a few days after some Opposition MPs 'insulted' Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari during the debate on the Women's Reservation Bill, Dr Singh took charge.

Describing the Women's Reservation Bill as a 'giant step' towards the empowerment of women, the prime minister told the Rajya Sabha that the measure was not anti-minority or anti-Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe.

'On behalf of the government, I owe you a profound apology,' Dr Singh told Vice-President Ansari for the disrespect shown to the Chair by MPs during the debate over the landmark Constitution Amendment Bill that provided for 33 per cent reservation to women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies.

The prime minister noted that the 'near unanimity' between the government and the Opposition reached on the bill is 'living proof that the heart of the Indian democracy is sound and in right place.'


Image: Women activists shout slogans during a protest outside Parliament demanding introduction of the women's reservation bill
Photographs: Reuters
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'History will be the judge'

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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on August 25, 2010 described the Nuclear Liability Bill as the completion of the journey to end apartheid against India in the field of atomic power and rejected allegations that the proposed legislation was designed to benefit American interests.

Making an intervention during the debate on the bill in the Lok Sabha, Dr Singh asserted that atomic power was the 'viable' option, which could not be ignored, and the legislation would enable India to widen this option by undertaking nuclear commerce with the world.

He said charges that he favoured America were not new as he had faced these even in July 1991 when he presented the Budget as finance minister.

Pointing out that senior BJP leader L K Advani was aware of it, Dr Singh said the whole Opposition, with a few exceptions, demanded his impeachment claiming that the Budget had been prepared in the US.

'To say we have any way compromised India's national interest will be a travesty of facts,' Dr Singh said.

'History will be the judge,' the prime minister said as he pointed to the economic reforms initiated in 1991 when he was the finance minister, which has changed India forever.

Of the eight speeches Dr Singh has made in Parliament since he became prime minister, five have related to foreign policy issues, indicating the focus of his office.

Despite the national outcry about rising prices that have pummelled millions of Indians, the prime minister has chosen to remain silent in Parliament, content to let Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee walk the talk.


Image: Dr Singh with US President Barack Obama at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, April 12, 2010
Photographs: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
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