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Highlights: PM speaks on UPA's first year in office

Source : REUTERS
Last Updated: Mon, May 24, 2010 15:58 hrs
HIGHLIGHTS - PM's news conference

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave a rare news conference on Monday to mark the ruling coalition's first year in office.

Singh took question on the growing economy, ties with Pakistan and issues of succession and whether Congress party scion Rahul Gandhi could take over from him.

Singh denied any differences between with Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, Rahul's mother and the real power behind the government.

Following are the highlights of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's news conference:

GOVERNMENT PERFORMANCE

  • * Singh said that the record of the first year was a "record of reasonable achievement", listing high inclusive growth, strong social sector spending and a satisfactory foreign policy among its successes. Indian media has given the government a mixed review in a year in which a slew of crises, including a parliamentary confidence vote, buffeted the government and distracting it from concentrating on economic issues.
  • * Singh: "I could do better than what I have done. But am satisfied with the pace."

ECONOMY

  • * Containing inflation is the government's top priority and it will take more steps together with state governments to tame prices.
  • * Although high prices are a matter of concern, they are showing signs of moderation.
  • * Expects inflation to moderate to 5-6 percent by December 2010 from near 10 percent currently.
  • * Government expects the economy to grow 8.5 percent in the current fiscal year that started on April 1, after growing at an expected 7.2 percent in 2009/10
  • * Annual economic growth of 10 percent needed in the medium term to address problems of poverty and malnutrition in the country

SUCCESSION

  • * Singh was asked if he was willing to make way for Rahul Gandhi, scion of India's most powerful political dynasty. "I sometimes feel younger people should take over as and when the Congress party makes that judgement, I will be very happy to make place for anybody the Congress party may choose." Many analysts believe Gandhi could take over from Singh before the next parliamentary election in 2014.
  • * But Singh ruled out retirement for now. "The work is incomplete right now and till the time this is not completed there is no question of retirement."
  • * "Rahul is very qualified to hold a cabinet post. I have discussed with him on number of occasions but ... he has always been reluctant to give a positive answer, telling me that he has duties to perform in reviving the Congress party, and he is doing a really good job.
  • * "I have every reason to believe that as and when he is ready to join the Cabinet he would be a very very appropriate addition to the Cabinet."

DIFFERENCES WITH SONIA GANDHI

  • * On issues of economic reforms, Indian media often report about differences between Singh, an economist, and Sonia Gandhi, who is seen more inclined toward social programmes for political reasons. But the prime minister refuted such charges.
  • * "There is no dearth of effective coordination mechanism ... Invariably, we meet every week.
  • * "There is not an iota of truth that there is any distrust or mistrust with the Congress president. There is no gap between me and the Congress president when it comes to doing things which our government should do."

LEGACY ISSUE

  • * Singh, 77, who staked his personal reputation on a civilian nuclear deal with the United States in 2008, is unlikely to fight another election. He is credited with opening up India's economy in the 1990s and many believe his push for peace with Pakistan, despite the 2008 Mumbai attack, is an attempt to leave behind his political legacy.
  • * "I am not really bothered about legacy. I have a task to accomplish. I'm trying to do it to the best of my ability," he said, adding it was up to historians to judge him.

ON NUCLEAR BILL

  • * A bill to set caps on operator liability in case of a nuclear accident, key for General Electric and Toshiba's Westinghouse to enter the $150 billion sector, has faced delays in India's parliament.
  • * Singh said he hoped all political parties will support nuclear liability bill.
  • * "I'm convinced that ... all politial parties interested in India's growth, interested in ensuring that India's nuclear power programme moves forward will support it."

PAKISTAN

  • * India is willing to discuss all outstanding issues with Pakistan, a clear sign of the government softening its stance since it paused a "peace process" after the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The two countries said in Thimphu last month their officials would meet to reduce a trust deficit.
  • * "It has been my effort to try to reduce the gap between our two countries. India cannot realise its full development potential unless we have the best possible relations with our neighbours, and Pakistan happens to be the largest neighbour of ours. The trust gap is biggest problem."

SECURITY

  • * Singh repeated that the Maoist insurgency in India was the country's biggest security threat. India could not realise its economic potential if it could not bring under control the violent insurgency.
  • * United States has assured India access to David Headley soon, arrested in the U.S. in March for scouting targets in Mumbai, ahead of the November 2008 terror attacks.



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