PM’s presser will be remembered for questions not asked
Dr Mammohan Singh’s third national press conference in the six years that he has been at the helm would be remembered for the questions that weren’t posed than for the ones the PM actually fielded. The exercise lasting 80 minutes yielded reaffirmations and clarifications— but no newsbreaks.
Barring Singh’s assertion that he wasn’t planning to retire anytime soon, the question-answer was a study in generalities. It had its lighter moments triggered by some patently silly questions. But there was no sharp or focused questioning expected of the occasion.
The PM didn’t excel. Nor did any one of the hundreds of journos assembled for the conference.
The loss in the end was mutual, media persons coming away without much to report and the learned economist denied the opportunity to be incisive and insightful on key issues: resumption of talks with Pakistan; fight against Naxalism and above all the government’s robust handling of the economy amid the scary global downturn.
Nobody probed the PM’s mind on the recent Constitutional changes in Pakistan that “empowered” Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani at the expense of Asif Zardari’s Presidency.
The question was relevant as the Thimpu accord to resume Indo-Pak talks came in that backdrop and was — from New Delhi’s standpoint — meant to test Gilani’s ability to deliver on bilateral issues in his new avatar.
Many analysts find the renewed Indian quest for peace a trifle misplaced as powers have been transferred from a civilian President to a civilian PM without disturbing the Army’s pre-eminence in the Pakistani set up.
It would have been interesting to know what Singh thought of the Army’s role in the new situation? Whether he was going ahead despite them or with the hope of setting up a mechanism to engage with the Pak military leadership at a later stage?
Likewise, it was surprising to see Singh getting away lightly on the conduct of ministers from allied parties on whom his control is tenuous. There was no mention of Mamata Banerjee or Chemical and Fertilisers Minister M K Alagiri. One runs her Railways Ministry from Kolkata and the other is notorious for being absent from office and parliament.
With journalists jumping from one issue to another, the proceedings lacked a logical flow. Consequently, there was no persistent questioning on instances of Congress leaders speaking out of turn on the Naxal threat and New Delhi’s alleged distrust of Chinese companies seeking entry to Indian markets.
A major casualty in the middle of it all was the basic protocol that’s due to the PM. Someone even got up to ask whether he was willing to make way for Rahul Gandhi as PM as if the leadership change was going to be settled between the two of them.
A gentleman that he is, Singh took the question in his stride, saying he would willingly do so as and when the Congress leadership arrived at that judgement.
A press conference— like an interview— is a forum that belongs to the interviewee. But its outcome is dependant as much on the erudition of the interviewer.
At the Vigyan Bhawan this morning, scribes got away with long speeches and silly asides for want of effective intervention from the stage. I for one am sure we didn’t inspire the PM enough to look forward to setting up another interaction anytime soon. Eighty minutes is too long a time to be wasted on an inane exercise by a busy PM.