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The question that made the PM laugh

Last updated on: April 18, 2011 07:25 IST
The prime minister on Anna Hazare, China, Pakistan and whether he has changed after all these months of attack by the Opposition and media. On board Air India 001, Rediff.com's Nikhil Lakshman listens in:

Even though he had a hectic five days meeting with heads of State and government, a relaxed prime minister addressed a brief press conference soon after Air India 001 took off from Astana, Kazakhstan's capital. This is what he said:

When Rediff.com asked Dr Manmohan Singh what five things he hoped to achieve with India-Pakistan relations, the prime minister laughed and exclaimed, "Five is too much! If I can succeed in normalising relations, as it should be with two normal States, I would consider my job well done."

When the Indian Express correspondent asked how the last few months of continuous battering by the Opposition, civil society and media had affected him, Dr Singh replied, "I am not disturbed. If winter comes, can spring be far behind?"

When a reporter asked about his encounter with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Wednesday, Dr Singh said the meeting was cordial. Interestingly, he added that Hu had recognised that trade imbalance with India was a problem and said that the Chinese president said "China has the responsibility to tackle the problem of trade imbalances."

The prime minister said it was his expectation that defence ties with China would be continued, and indicated that the new mechanism on maintaining peace and tranquility on the border is a work in progress.

One reporter sought his views on why the Left was on the losing trail in Bengal. The prime minister parried that question, saying he was not the best judge on what went wrong with the Left. "It is for the people to decide, and I would not want to speculate on it."

His longest response was when he was asked why India is eager about nuclear energy at a time when the world is looking at it with suspicion after the Fukushima catastrophe.

Said Dr Singh, "We are too close to the Japanese disaster. There is a certain amount of nervousness about the nuclear programme even for peaceful purposes. But I am convinced when cool headed discussion takes place on energy, when we discuss the problems with coal, the problems with hydrocarbons, their impact on climate change, there would be a reconsideration of the role of nuclear energy."

The prime minister was asked if progress had been made about India's permanent candidature of the United Nations Security Council after his meetings with the presidents of Brazil, China, Russia and South Africa at the BRICS summit in Sanya, southern China, on Wednesday and Thursday, and with President Nursultan Nazarbayev in Astana on Saturday. "It is a work in progress," he felt.

Dr Singh said BRICS by itself could not control issues like rising commodity prices. "The G-20 is the appropriate economic forum for this. Whenever President (Nicolas Sarkozy) convenes the G-20 (at Cannes in November), issues like fluctuations (in commodity prices) and rising food prices will be on the anvil."

"As far as Anna Hazareji is concerned, I respect him as an important leader who had done a lot of good work in rural development," the prime minister said when asked about the Gandhian who led the recent agitation against corruption. "and that is why the whole country respects him."

"People's power," Dr Singh felt, "is something we have to reckon with," whether domestically or internationally as seen in recent events in the Middle East and North Africa.

Nikhil Lakshman