I can't shut up every colleague, says PM
Rejecting reports about a 'disconnect' between his government and the Congress party, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday said that the expression of different view points was not "necessarily a bad thing".
He did not see anything wrong in ministers and party functionaries expressing different points of view because "the Congress party itself was a movement within which there have been differences of opinion as happens in a democracy".
However, it was necessary for the Cabinet and the government to function with a "certain degree of cohesion" and his Cabinet had functioned with a "much greater degree of cohesion" than even the first Cabinet headed by Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr Singh told a group of editors at his residence in New Delhi.
Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with party chief Sonia Gandhi
'There were differences between Indira Gandhi and her deputy'
He pointed out that there was almost a daily exchange of letters between Nehru and his deputy Sardar Patel.
"There were differences between Indira Gandhi and her deputy Morarji Desai. During Mrs Gandhi's time a group of 'Young Turks' led by Chandrashekhar openly constituted a dissident group," he said during the 80-minute interaction that turned into a virtual press conference covering domestic political issues, the economy and foreign policy.
The prime minister emphasised that he was not aware of anything that could constitute a disconnect between the Congress party and the government.
"Allowing people to express their views is not necessarily a sign of drift," he said.
Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
'I would like to reduce the average age of my Cabinet'
"I can't say I will shut up every colleague," he said, at the same time thanking his Cabinet colleagues for their fullest support.
Dr Singh made it clear that he was not thinking of retiring and indicated that he would 'look at options' of a Cabinet reshuffle before the next session of Parliament begins on November 7.
"I would like to reduce the average age of my Cabinet," he said with a chuckle.
Dr Singh said that during his six years in power, his Cabinet had met almost every week. "Various issues are debated and ministers abide by the decisions taken thereafter," he said.
Image: The Indian Parliament
PM agreed with Rahul Gandhi's view
When a questioner suggested that it appeared his government was 'marking time' while Rahul Gandhi was 'spreading his wings', the prime minister laughed it away.
In any case, politics was a competitive game, he said.
Dr Singh agreed with Rahul Gandhi's view that there are two Indias. "The inequality of income and wealth is a fact of life. The gap between the rich and the poor has to be bridged," he said.
Image: Rahul Gandhi
'I can't produce a rabbit out of my hat'
The prime minister listed the Naxal problem, the current situation in Kashmir and the forthcoming judgment in the Babri Masjid case as some of the top issues that would have a bearing on how India would shape up in the years ahead.
About the Naxal problem, he said that it was one of the greatest security challenges to which there was no 'quick fix'. He favoured a two-pronged approach of addressing valid economic and social reasons behind the problem and enforcing law and order at the same time.
With regard to Kashmir, Dr Singh disclosed that he was calling a meeting of the Cabinet Committee of Security later this week to discuss 'threadbare' how to tackle the situation.
"I can't promise you that I can produce a rabbit out of my hat the country must learn to be patient," he said.
Image: Protests rage on in Kashmir
PM silent on the spectrum scam
Answering a question about allegations of corruption against some of his ministers which had 'sullied' the government's image, the prime minister said that corruption constituted a major challenge for India's polity.
"But every opponent cannot be condemned as being corrupt," he said. Dr Singh promised action with regard to serious allegations of corruption in the Cabinet.
Speaking on the multi-crore spectrum scam allegations against Telecom Minister A Raja, he said, "I took adequate precaution and took note of what appeared in the media".
He declined to comment any further on the matter, saying it was sub-judice.
Image: Telecom Minister A Raja