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PM plays safe at maiden press meet

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi | September 04, 2004 21:24 IST
Last Updated: September 04, 2004 22:20 IST

At his first press conference after taking over as prime minister, Manmohan Singh failed to give any catchy headline.

He didn't make use of the TV cameras, didn't use the opportunity to tell the nation how different he was, what new ideas he had or how the nation would be better off with him in charge.

There were more than 500 journalists -- national and international -- present.

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The PM seemed more like the honest, hard-working vice-chancellor of a university.

He gave expected answers; there were no novel thoughts on issues of national importance.

He did not take any risk for fear of going wrong, and because of that he did not score any political points.

To be fair to him, he didn't bungle either, which was a great relief to his team.

Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Prithviraj Chavan, Special Adviser M K Narayanan, National Security Adviser J N Dixit, and Information and Broadcasting Minister S Jaipal Reddy were present.

There were just a few highlights.

At the end of the session, when senior journalist Neerja Chaudhary remarked that it is said that when pushed to the wall Singh has a tendency to put in his papers, he replied, "... misconceptions that I will be pressurised into giving up simply I think are not going to materialise."

Singh did not quite relax. He gave stock replies to most questions. Questions relating to Kashmir, China, his forthcoming visit to the United States, economic reforms, farmers' problems, controversy over Veer Savarkar, and Manipur were asked, but he sounded like a bureaucrat.

It seemed that he was sticking to his brief.

Nuclear issues, the India-Pakistan relationship, and diplomatic intricacies are not his subjects and he kept repeating phrases like "expansion and development of relationship".

TV viewers may have expected him to come out as a strong leader, but Singh was merely wise.

"Doctorsaheb", as some journalists addressed him, didn't say anything new on economic issues either. He was rather cautious and not forthright while talking about reforms and inflation.

His personality is in stark contrast to that of his predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who never met journalists in Delhi. But whenever he met them in cities like Ahmedabad or Lucknow, he gave the impression that he was enjoying himself immensely. One wanted to hear him on the contradictions within the Sangh Parivar, on the issue of Hindutva, and on Indo-Pak ties.

One wonders why Singh didn't capitalise on his strengths. He is an economic expert and he could have said something more substantial.

It looks like he will prefer to remain an apolitical PM.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, however, was mentioned only twice at the press conference, and that must count as a big achievement for any Congress PM.

While nominating Singh, Gandhi had said that the nation is safe in his hands. After hearing him for almost an hour and a half, one can't dispute her faith.

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