'A record of reasonable achievement'
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday described the first year of the second term of the United Progressive Alliance as one of 'reasonable achievement', but said his government could have done more.
"I believe that the record of our first year of UPA-II is a record of reasonable achievement. I am the first person to admit that we could have done more," Dr Singh told a press conference.
He said one should not be satisfied with "what we have achieved".
"There is always room for improvement and for better outcome. But I do believe that the record of our first year is a record of reasonable achievement," he said.
Image: Victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy hold placards portraying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a protest in New Delhi
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters
'Rahul is very qualified to hold a Cabinet post'
Observing that Rahul Gandhi was 'very qualified' to hold a post in the Union Cabinet, Dr Singh said the young Congress Member of Parliament has always been reluctant to join his ministry and renewed his offer to him to join the UPA government.
Dr Singh also said he was ready to make place for 'anybody' whom the Congress party decides on, when asked whether he was ready to make way for 39-year-old Rahul during his current tenure.
"Rahul is very qualified to hold a Cabinet post. I have discussed this with him on a number of occasions," Dr Singh said. He was asked when Rahul is expected to join his Cabinet as he is being projected as the future prime minister of the country.
"He (Rahul) has always been reluctant to give a postive answer (on joining the Cabinet)," the prime minister said of the All India Congress Committee general secretary.
He also said that as and when Rahul decides to join the Cabinet, he will be given an appropriate role.
On whether he would make way for Rahul during his current tenure, Dr Singh said he was ready to make place for 'anybody' whom the Congress party chooses.
"Let me say that I sometimes feel that younger people should take over as and when the Congress party makes that judgment and I will be very happy to make place for anybody the Congress party decide on," Dr Singh said.
Image: A man holds cut-out images of Dr Singh and Rahul Gandhi
Photographs: Punit Paranjpe/Reuters
'Trust deficit is the biggest problem with Pakistan'
Dr Singh said 'trust deficit' between India and Pakistan was the 'biggest problem' coming in the way of any improvement in bilateral relations.
Dr Singh also said India is willing to discuss all outstanding issues with Pakistan but it should ensure that its soil is not used for terrorism against this country.
On the forthcoming dialogue between the foreign ministers of the two countries, Dr Singh said India is going to make a beginning in improving the bilateral relations that have witnessed a chill after the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008.
"It has been my effort to try to reduce the gap between our two countries without surrendering or affecting our vital national interest," Dr Singh told reporters.
The prime minister said it was his conviction that the two countries could not make any headway in the composite dialogue as there has been a lack of adequate trust between the countries.
"There has been a lack of adequate trust and trust deficit is the biggest problem (between the two countries)," he said.
"We are willing to discuss all outstanding issues with Pakistan. But it should ensure that its soil is not used for terrorism against India," he said.
Dr Singh also expressed hope that the new dialogue process can move forward.
"Pakistan is our neighbour. It is my belief that India cannot realise its full development potential unless we have the best possible relations with our neighbours and Pakistan is our largest neighbour," Dr Singh said.
Image: Dr Singh with Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani
Photographs: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters
PM evasive on Afzal hanging issue
On the contentious issue of the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, Dr Singh said the 'law of the land' should be allowed to take its course in dealing with the issue.
"There is law of the land. They should be allowed to have their course," Dr Singh said while replying to a question on when the death sentence awarded to Guru would be carried out.
On whether the delay will send a message that India is a soft state, he said it is a perception which can vary among individuals.
Last week, the Delhi government sent its views on Guru's mercy petition file to Lieutenant Governor Tejendar Khanna with comments that it had no objection to the hanging, but its implications on law and order needed to be kept in mind.
The city government's move came after the 16th reminder from the Union home ministry recently seeking its opinion on the matter. The Delhi government has been dilly-dallying on the matter for nearly four years and the capital punishment awarded to Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Amir Kasab in the Mumbai attacks case brought the issue under fresh focus.
Guru was awarded the death sentence by a Delhi court on December 18, 2002 after being convicted of conspiracy to attack Parliament on December 13, 2001, waging war against the country and murder.
The death sentence was upheld by a Delhi high court on October 29, 2003 and his appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court two years later on August 4, 2005.
A sessions court also fixed the date of his hanging on October 20, 2006 in Tihar jail. Following this, Afzal filed a mercy petition with the President, who forwarded it to the home ministry for its comments. The home ministry had sent the file to the Delhi government's home department for its comments, as per the procedure.
Image: BJP activists demand the execution of Afzal Guru
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
'Naxalism remains the biggest internal security challenge'
Dr Singh also termed Naxalism as the biggest internal security challenge and said it was imperative to control Left-wing extremism for the country's growth.
His government has not underestimated the problem of Naxalism, Dr Singh asserted.
"I have been saying for the last three years that Naxalism remains the biggest internal security challenge facing our country," he said.
Asked if his government had underestimated the Naxals, he said, "We have not underestimated the problem of Naxalism."
He said there was no difference of opinion between the Central and the state governments on the issue.
"I have spoken to the chief ministers of the states many times on the Naxal issue. The chief ministers understand that it is imperative to control Naxalism for the country's growth," the prime minister said.
Dr Singh said it was important to control Naxalism and terror elements to exploit the full benefit of economic reforms.
"If we don't, it can affect our growth," he said.
On the issue of terrorism, the prime minister said the government is determined to squarely tackle the threat of terrorism and ideological extremism of various kinds.
He said that terrorism is a major national security issue and it has no religion. Terrorism, he said, is being sponsored by particular religious elements and has to be dealt with 'effectively and purposefully'.
Image: Bodies of CRPF men who were killed in a Maoist attack at Dantewada
'She is the Congress president and I am a Congressman'
Dr Singh strongly dismissed suggestions of 'mistrust' between him and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, saying he receives constant advice and guidance from her.
Dr Singh, who addressed his first press conference in India in four years, said there is not an "iota of mistrust or distrust between me and the Congress president."
"(There is) no question of gap in thinking between me and the Congress president. She is the leader of the UPA and she is the president of the Congress party and I am a Congressman," Dr Singh said when asked about reported differences between the government and the party on a host of issues.
He said he meets Gandhi once in a week to discuss political developments as well as issues related to governance.
"Invariably we (Sonia Gandhi and me) meet every week to discuss major issues. There is no basis to believe that there is no effective mechanism to deal with issues between Congress and the government," the prime minister said.
"(There is) not an iota of truth in (suggestions) that there is any mistrust or distrust between me and the Congress president," he said.
Image: Sonia Gandhi with Dr Singh
Photographs: B Mathur/Reuters
'I have the benefit of being advised by two women'
In a lighter vein, Dr Singh said he benefits from the advice of two women -- his wife Gursharan Kaur and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
"I have the benefit of being advised by (both) the Congress president and my wife," Dr Singh said.
"Both of them deal with different subjects," he said, triggering peals of laughter at the press conference.
The prime minister said he was 'happy' to get advice from both of them.
Image: Dr Singh with wife Gursharan Kaur
Photographs: Jay Mandal/On Assignment
No deal with Mayawati, Mulayam: PM
Dr Singh said there was no deal with Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav to garner their support during the recent Opposition-sponsored cut motion in Lok Sabha.
"There was no deal. Whatever misconceptions you have in your heart, kindly get rid of them," Dr Singh said in reply to a question.
Opposition parties, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, had alleged that the government had used the Central Bureau of Investigation to pressurise Mayawati, Yadav and RJD chief Lalu Prasad, all of whom are facing disproportionate assets cases, to win their support.
While the BSP had voted with the government against the cut motions, SP and RJD members had staged a walkout.
During the press conference, the prime minister also refuted the charge that the government had misused the CBI.
'We will get access to David Headley'
India will get access to 26/11 conspirator David Headley with the highest authorities in the United States having given an assurance in this regard, Dr Singh said.
"I have been assured by the highest (authorities) in the US administration that we will get access to David Headley," Dr Singh said.
Headley has told his American interrogators that he had conducted reconnisance for likely targets before the Mumbai terror attacks.
A Pakistani-American, who was arrested in October last year, Headley had entered into a plea bargain with the US government, wherein he has offered to be available to foreign investigators through deposition, video conferencing or letters rogatory.
A two-member team led by Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium had visited the US in April to discuss the modalities of gaining access to Headley.
Image: Dr Singh with US President Barack Obama
Photographs: Jason Reed/Reuters
'I am not bothered about my legacy'
Dr Singh left it to historians to judge his legacy, saying he was more concerned about the task at hand.
"I am not bothered about the legacy issue. I have a task to accomplish to the best of my ability. It is for historians to pronounce judgments (on my legacy)," he said at a press conference to mark one year of UPA-II.
Dr Singh was responding to a question on what accomplishment he would consider as his legacy.
Dr Singh also ruled out the possibility of retirement since his tasks remained 'unfinished'.
In a carefully-crafted response, Dr Singh told over 700 journalists, "I have been given this task. It is still unfinished. Till I finish these tasks, there is no question of retirement."
'It is not good that ministers air their differences'
In a clear message to his ministers on the issue of airing differences in public, Dr Singh said it would be right if they expressed opposing views inside the Cabinet.
"It is not good that ministers should air their differences in public," he said when asked to react on some ministers openly differing with the government's viewpoints on various issues.
Pointing out that Cabinet meetings were being held every week, he said, "For the past six years, our Cabinet has met almost on schedule every week. So, the ministers have enough opportunity to air their views."
"If the views are aired in the Cabinet, I think that is the right thing to do," Dr Singh said.
His reaction assumes significance against the backdrop of Railway Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee opposing the government's decision to carry out joint security operations against Maoists in West Bengal.
Image: Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee