Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is a changed man. If he looked pensive and sad at the Hindustan Times leadership summit last week, he was at his assertive and charismatic best when he faced the media on board Air India One when returning from a five-day African tour.
He decided to take on his detractors head on.
Asked about the Bharatiya Janata Party's accusation that he is a weak prime minister and that he had lost the moral right to govern, he shot back: "The BJP, of all parties, is the least qualified to talk about the moral rights to govern. Look at the Holocaust that took place in Gujarat. It took place when L K Advani was the home minister. He gave a certificate to the Gujarat government. And we all saw the massacre that took place in Gujarat. Did not they think of their moral right to govern then?
"Think of the fiasco during the Agra summit and its collapse. And, we all know why the Kargil war took place. The infiltrators were coming into our country and the government in New Delhi was sleeping. So, I think the BJP is the least qualified to speak about moral rights," he said.
Asked whether there was a failure to get a consensus at home on operationalising the India-United States nuclear deal, the prime minister said: "Some things don't work the way you plan it -- it does have an effect. Plus, as I said last week, we are not a one-issue government, we have lots of things on our agenda. We have done a lot of things and there is a lot to be done. I think there is a setback in one direction. But it is not the end of life."
Asked specifically whether the deal is dead or there still is hope, the prime minister said: "I have mentioned we have difficulties. We are in a coalition. We have to find a way out. And I have not given up hope."
Talking about the IBSA (India, Brazil South Africa) summit and trade between the three countries, the prime minister said, There is lot of pressure on the government to ease visa restrictions."
''We have set an ambitious target for trade and business and this will be an incentive for governments to look at all obstacles that come in the way," he said.
As for the rise in food prices and the Sensex indices, Singh said, "There has been a rise in food articles world over. Global commodity prices are rising and so is the case with petroleum products. It is a global phenomenon and we have to cope with it."
As far as the stock markets are concerned, he referred to the comments made by Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Securities Exchange Board of India chief M Damodaran.
He added quickly, "I don't have anything more to say."
Asked about Brazil and South Africa, both being members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, how he plans to seek their cooperation as opposed to difficulties at home, the prime minister said, "Our efforts to resolve problems at home are on. Discussions with NSG members will come only after we have an India-specific safeguard agreement with the International Atomic Energy Association. NSG members can come into picture only after that."
He added, "We will make efforts to evolve a national consensus. I hope the process which emerges as a result of wide-ranging discussions with our coalition partners will enable us to do to arrive at a consensus."
The PM said his government was in the process of giving final shape to the 11th Five Year Plan.
"We have some important programmes like the universalisation of the Rural Employment Guarantee Programme to cover our rural districts and an ambitious project to expand our higher and technical education. We have also plans to expand the social security network for workers in the unorganised sector, Bima Yojana Scheme and the expansion of pension of people above 65."
More such initiatives were in the pipeline, he added.
On a lighter note, when journalists asked if he was the same 'reluctant politician' as appeared at the HT summit, the PM quoted a Bhagavad Gita maxim, "Karmanye Vadhikarasthe, Ma Bhaleshu Kadachana (Do your work, don't expect results)."
Needless to add, with that philosophical note, the prime minister had bowled the media over.