"If I was resigning, I would not be here," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told journalists on the flight back from Iran, where he attended the Non Aligned Movement Summit, on Friday morning.
The prime minister took on the Bharatiya Janata Party which has paralysed Parliament, demanding that he resign for his alleged involvement in the Coalgate controversy, at several points in the 20-minute media interaction.
Asked why he had allowed the BJP to set the political agenda, the prime minister said, " I have to maintain the dignity of the office of prime minister. I cannot get into a tu-tu-main main or in a slanging match with other political leaders. So it is better that I keep silent."
The BJP's "diversionary tactics," Dr Singh said, had affected the government's functioning.
"I hope the Opposition will see sense," the prime minister, who sounded defiant despite his mild manner, said.
"The people of the country have elected us for a five-year term. In a Parliamentary system it is the majority that rules. If the BJP thinks that the majority cannot be trusted to run the country and they would like to run it their way then that is a total negation of what democratic politics is all about. It is still not too late for the BJP to realise that there is too much at stake and they have an obligation to make this parliamentary democracy of which we are genuinely proud of a great success and in tackling the problems of our country. We have an obligation to the country."
"Let the BJP wait till the next election to test its political fortunes!" Dr Singh exclaimed.
The prime minister felt "we should count our blessings" that despite the global economic crisis, despite America recording two per cent growth, despite Europe recording 0 pc growth, India was still growing at 6.5 pc.
He said his government would work to create a situation for Indians to save more and to improve the investment in infrastructure so that "we will be able to give a big push to the economy."
"We could certainly lay the foundations for nine pc growth, but international conditions have not helped, lack of international cohesion has not helped," he said.
Dr Singh said he has always spoken about bringing the prime minister's office under the Lokpal's ambit. "I am not afraid of myself or any other prime minister under the jurisdiction of the Lokpal. The bill is now in the court of Parliament and whatever they approve is fine by me."
When Rediff.com asked Dr Singh what gave him sleepless nights these days, the prime minister said, "The developments in Parliament are a great cause of concern for me. The ethnic tensions which have disturbed peace in Assam are certainly a cause of worry. Thousands of people from Bangalore and Mumbai do not feel secure and have gone back home, that is not good for promoting national integration. There are growing communal tensions in the country. This is a menace which I believe right thinking people in the country can help control. Naxalism, if not contained, can hurt nationalcohesion and the rate of economic development. As you know Naxal-affected regions are in mineral rich areas in the country and if this problem is not controlled, it would be a severe setback to the growth of the country."
Dr Singh felt the crucial test of Pakistan's sincerity -- its resolve to control terror directed against India -- would be in bringing the perpetrators of the horrific crimes that occurred in Mumbai in November 2008 to book.
"I am very keen to visit Pakistan and I am grateful to President Zardari for inviting me, " the prime minister said, "but I also mentioned that there must be a proper atmosphere that Pakistan is doing all it could do to deal with terrorism directed against India from Pakistani soil. In this context the court trial of (those involved in the) the Mumbai massacre is a crucial test of Pakistan's sincerity to bring the perpetrators of that horrific crime to book. On that point both President Zardari and (Pakistan's 'Interior Minister') Rehman Malik said they are doing all they can subject to the vagaries of the court process."
The prime minister said he had also asked President Asif Ali Zardari about resolving the Sir Creek issue which the Pakistan leader had mentioned during his visit to New Delhi in April. The foreign ministers of India and Pakistan, Dr Singh said, could explore at their meeting next week what can be achieved if his visit to Pakistan came about.
Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai had told journalists in Tehran on Thursday that the prime minister wanted to visit the country where he was born, but is clear that it be a "well prepared visit."
The view is that Dr Singh will fly to Islamabad only after the trial of the masterminds of the 26/11 Mumbai attack concludes successfully. To this end, the ministry of external affairs will request the home and law ministries to consider the Pakistan government's renewed request that its judicial commission be permitted to cross-examine four witnesses -- the investigating officer who interrogated Ajmal Kasab after he was captured early on November 27, 2008; the two doctors who treated the wounded terrorist after his arrest; the additional chief metropolitan magistrate before whom the only surviving Pakistani murderer was produced after his arrest.
Of course, both the home and law ministries will seek the Bombay high court's direction on whether it was permissible for a foreign agency to cross-examine Indian witnesses. Only if the court gives its okay will India government agencies permit the Pakistan judicial to cross-examine the four personalities they want to question. The commission had recorded the statements of the four individuals when it traveled to Mumbai in March.