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August 31, 2012
On Board AI-1

Transcript of PM’s on-board Press Interaction enroute to Delhi from Tehran

Prime Minister of India (Dr. Manmohan Singh): Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, I came to Tehran to attend the NAM Summit. My speech at the Plenary Session of the Summit has already been circulated and you must have gone through it.

In addition I had a meeting with the Supreme Leader, and also with President Ahmadinejad to review the state of our bilateral relations. I was particularly struck by what the Supreme Leader told me about his interest and involvement in Indian affairs. He recalled the influence that Mahatma Gandhi had on him, the role that Jawaharlal Nehru played in India’s freedom struggle, his visit to India in 1980-81, meetings with Mrs. Gandhi, visiting various other parts of our country including Hyderabad.

And what I was more struck was his statement that a country of India’s great diversity, different languages, different religions, has greater chances of achieving its national goals, if there is growing respect for tolerance and respect for diversity. He said that is the way of the future, human civilization is moving in that direction, and what India is trying to achieve is truly remarkable.

In addition, with President Ahmadinejad I reviewed the state of our bilateral relations. And there is lot of interest in doing business with India and getting Indian investment in infrastructure. There are of course difficulties imposed by western sanction, but subject to that I think we will explore ways and means of developing our relations with Iran.

I had also on the sidelines meetings with President Zardari of Pakistan, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, the Prime Minister of Nepal, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, President Morsi of Egypt, the Crown Prince of Jordan, and several other world leaders, including the new Prime Minister of Syria who called on me and explained to me his Government’s point of view about developments in Syria.

I think all these matters have been reported to you and you have been briefed about that by the Foreign Secretary. If there are any questions, I will be happy to answer them.

I am sorry I forgot to mention my meeting with President Karzai of Afghanistan.

Question (Mr Jagdish Chandra, ETV Network): Sir, Foreign Secretary also briefed us about your excellent meeting with the Supreme Leader where he was very appreciative of India’s 2000 year old relationship with Iran, and you also told us about it. Did he seek any intervention of India to sort out any of their issues with America? Would you like to tell us something more about your meeting with the Supreme Leader? Did he seek your intervention to sort out their issues with any other country?

PM: There is no issue of India intervening to solve any problems in which Iran is involved. It was a philosophical discussion. The relations between our countries which go back to centuries old ties of culture, civilization, language, religion, the continuing relevance of what India is trying to achieve, a country with composite culture trying to make sense of diversity of our people to create a sense of unity amidst diversity. He was very appreciative of these things.

Question (Mr Avnish Devgun, Zee Business): Sir, har taraf se kaafi kharab sanket aa rahen hain. Zee Network ne ek initiative shuru kiya hai jis ka naam hai India Positive. Aap Bharat ki growth ke liye kya teen badi cheezein positive dekhte hain?

PM: Dekhiye, aap ko is baat ka pata hi hai ki is waqt duniya mein bahut bada aarthik sankat hai. Is aarthik sankat ke hote hue bhi hamari economy saadhe cheh pratishat growth rate maintain kar rahi hai. Aur aaj ke is mushkil samay mein jab ki America jaise mulk do per cent ki bhi baat nahin karte, Europe mein zero growth rate ki baat ho rahi hai, toh we should count our blessings. Even then it will be our effort to improve upon the growth performance of 6.5 per cent by creating an environment conducive to growth of savings, domestic investment. Fortunately our domestic savings and investment rates are still very high. And if you view the climate for investment in infrastructure, power, roads, ports, railways, telecommunication, I am confident we will be able to give a big push forward to our growth processes.

Question (Raj Chengappa, The Tribune): Prime Minister, in your meeting with President Zardari, you informed that President Zardari again invited you to visit Pakistan and you had accepted it and said you would think of a suitable time and would like a substantial outcome of it. What in your opinion would be a substantial outcome and a suitable time?

PM: I am very keen to visit Pakistan and I am very grateful to President Zardari for inviting me to visit that country. But I also mentioned to him that we have to create a proper atmosphere. There must be a general feeling that Pakistan is doing all that it could do to deal with terrorism directed against India from Pakistani soil. And in this context the court trial of those who have been charged with this heinous crime of Mumbai massacre I think is a crucial test of Pakistan’s sincerity to bring the perpetrators of these horrible crimes to book. On that point President Zardari and Interior Minister Mallik said they are doing all that is possible subject to the vagaries of the court process. And I also said to him that there are issues like Sir Creek, which he himself had told me when he visited Delhi for going to Ajmer Sharief that these are doable. I said let us push that process further. And in the meanwhile the Foreign Ministers of the two countries will be meeting. They can explore the possibilities of what can be achieved to facilitate a purposeful visit of mine to Pakistan.

Question (Ms Smita Prakash, ANI): Sir, my question is about domestic politics. The Opposition has literally held the Parliament in hostage demanding your resignation. Will you be resigning? If not, then how do you plan to break the logjam?

PM: If I were resigning I would not be here.

Question (Ms Smita Prakash, ANI): How do you plan to break the logjam, Sir?

PM: I hope the Opposition will see sense. We are a Parliamentary democracy. We have been elected by the people of India for a five-year term. I sincerely hope the BJP will respect the verdict of the people and let the Government function. In Parliamentary system, the majority has a right to rule. If the BJP feels that the majority cannot be trusted with running the affairs of this country and they would like to run it their way, that is a total negation of what democratic politics is about. So, I sincerely hope that even now it is not too late for the BJP to recognize that there is too much at stake. We all have an obligation - Opposition as well as the Government, to work together to make this parliamentary democracy of ours, of which we are generally proud of, a great success in tackling the problems of our country.

Our country is faced with enormous difficulties. Look at what is happening in the Northeast - attempt to divide communities, to create gap between North and South. What has happened in some of the Southern cities? Also, terrorism remains a serious threat. In addition, Naxalism is a growing menace. Our country has done well despite all these odds, but we cannot assume that we can continue to make a mess of the processes of governance and yet the country will continue to grow, that we will continue to create jobs for the young people. Let us concentrate on essentials and let us wait till the next election to test the fortunes of various political parties. 

Question (Mr Manoranjan Bharti, NDTV India): Pradhan Mantriji, main Hindi mein saval puchhunga, aap Angrezi mein bhi javab de sakte hain. Mera saval yeh hai ki BJP ne aap ko is baar personally target kiya hai. Voh is liye is mudde par peechhe hathna nahi chahte hain. Aap ko lagta hai kya BJP jaldi power mein aane ke liye yeh sab kar rahi hai, aap ko personally nishaana bana rahi hai? Ya phir mid-term poll bhi aap dekh rahen hain?

PM: Dekhiye, main ne jo kuchh kehna tha voh main ne apni statement mein keh diya. Us ke alava is mudde par mujhe kehne ke liye koi aur zaruri main samajhta nahin.

Question (Mr Jayanta Ghoshal, Ananda Bazar Patrika): Sir, excuse me, I am asking one question on West Bengal. Are you giving moratorium to Mamata Banerji? Are you giving the facility of moratorium, economic bail, out for West Bengal Government? She met you also recently and she is expecting something from you.

PM: We are very keen to help all State Governments which have financial problems. West Bengal is no exception to that rule. We have been discussing with the Finance Minister as well as the Chief Minister of West Bengal practical, pragmatic and viable ways and means of helping West Bengal to tide over these difficulties.

Question (Mr Upendra Rai, Sahara News Network): In your NAM address you touched on two points. One was food security and the other was cyber terrorism. For food security you said that you look for international cooperation. What kind of international cooperation do you look for? And on cyber terrorism, on our domestic front we need more domestic legal framework because we do not have any comprehensive cyber policy in our country.

PM: I agree, you are right. I have been asking my National Security Advisor to zero in on the gaps in evolving a viable cyber policy to tackle the menace of cyber terrorism.

As far as food security is concerned, we would like the world to cooperate more in increasing agricultural productivity. Particularly in the countries of Africa there is enormous scope for increasing agricultural production. Our India-Africa Forum Summit seeks to use India’s capabilities to bring them to bear on improving agricultural productivity wherever there is a demand on the part of African countries. At the same time technology can be a very important source of increasing food production, food productivity. Better weather forecasting can itself help in putting in place early warning systems whether they are floods or droughts. The biotechnology has also very important role to play and the nations of the world should cooperate with each other to make success of the efforts of biotechnology to bring about another Green Revolution. In the twenty-first century, water is going to be the most important, I think critical, inputs in development processes. So, how to economize water use, how to use modern technologies of irrigation, sprinkler irrigation as against flow irrigation? What countries like Israel have done have morals for many other countries. So, on a whole gamut of issues the NAM countries can cooperate but the NAM countries can enlarge their mandate to work together with other parts of the globe to increase agricultural production.

Question (Mr Pranab Samantha, The Indian Express): Sir, in your second term as Prime Minister you have been bogged down by many constraints, be it coalition, be it protests on the street, or parliamentary deadlock like this. Do you have any regrets? What are the five things you would have wanted to do but you have not been able to do till now? 

There are lots of things we would have liked to do. We would certainly like to lay the foundations of a nine per cent growth rate but international events have not helped. But also I think lack of cohesion in our domestic politics has also been a factor. There have been, for example, difficulties in bringing into effect the Goods and Services Tax. The Goods and Services Tax, if it is agreed upon and implemented, can lead to an increase in Gross Domestic Product of our country by one to two per cent. It will streamline the tax system, minimise scope for evasion. But there are problems because we are not able to push through. There are similarly other things. I also would very much have liked that the Opposition would give us a chance to work in a manner that the basic problems of India of poverty, ignorance and disease can be tackled effectively. Unfortunately, from one crisis to another, the BJP’s policy has been to disrupt Parliament. These are all diversionary tactics. And one has only twenty-four hours at one’s disposal. If one is preoccupied all the time with handling these diversionary tactics, naturally that affects the capacity and the ability of the Government to attend to its more fundamental task, which I have always said is to grapple with the problem of mass poverty, ignorance and disease which still afflict millions of millions of our citizens.

Question (Dr Bharat Agarwal, Dainik Bhaskar): Sir, my question is related to NAM visit. The neo conservative blog media repeatedly claims Iran as a rogue state with nuclear capabilities. Do you see this NAM Summit as a slap to US or Israel? If not, then why not, Sir?

PM: NAM Summit is not meant to be a slap to any one country. NAM has a set agenda. This was the Sixteenth Summit. Iran has been chosen as the Chairperson. Therefore, it is only appropriate that the Summit should meet in Iran, which is a very important country in our region and in the developing world. The Iranians have a very proud civilization. They have many things to contribute to the world. And, therefore, meeting in Tehran has no more or no less significance than the fact that Iran being a member of NAM in good standing is hosting the Summit.

Question (Mr Vijay Trivedi, Rajasthan Patrika): Political logjam ki baat ho rahi hai. Pehle 2G scam, ab Coalgate for Opposition ne Prime Minister ko attack karne ki koshish ki aur gherne ki koshis ki. Kya aap ko lagta hai ki is tarah ke political uncertainty ke rehte hue bhi aap chaahte hain ki Lok Pal ke ambit mein Pradhan Mantri ko rakhna chahiye? Aur kya yeh sarkar is Bill ko pass karane ki koshis kar rahi hai?

PM: I have always been in favour of bringing the Prime Minister within the scope of being judged by the Lok Pal. I have said that many times and I repeat that I am not afraid of myself or any Prime Minister being brought within the purview of the jurisdiction of the Lok Pal. This is a matter now it is before the Select Committee of Lok Sabha and thereafter if they approve the Bill maybe if they make any amendments it will have to go back to the Lok Sabha. But the Bill is now in the court of Parliament. Whatever is the outcome, we will respect that outcome.

Question (Ms Indrani Bagchi, The Times of India): Sir, you said that you would appeal to the BJP’s good sense to stop the political logjam. Clearly that is not working. Do you have any other way out overcoming the logjam or any way of taking this forward because otherwise you will see no Parliament between now and even the Winter Session?

PM: I sincerely hope that there are people, well-meaning people in all political parties, and that they would all have the good sense to recognize that what is happening in our Parliament is not something which is doing credit to anyone. Beyond that, at this stage I have nothing more to add.

Question (Mr Gaurav Sawant, Headlines Today): Getting back to Pakistan question, Sir, you want those in court to face trial. Does that mean India is letting Hafiz Saeed off the hook?

PM: We are not letting anyone off the hook. Whosoever is guilty of crimes, terrorist crimes directed against India should be brought to book. I am not saying that anyone should not be brought within the ambit of being dealt with by appropriate justice mechanism.

Question (Ms Smita Sharma, IBN7 & CNN/IBN): Mulayam Singh Yadav aaj Sansad mein dharna de rahein hai ghair UPA, ghair NDA partners ke saath. Kya yeh Congress ki taraf se kiya gaya ek diversionary tactic hai jaisa ki BJP aarop laga rahi hai? Ya, aap ko lagta hai ki desh mein madhyavadhi chunavon ke liye mahaul ban chukka hai aur Third Front ek possibility hai?

PM: Madam, main to teen din se yahan hun aur lots of things happen in politics. As they say, a week in politics is a very long period of time. So, I am not well-informed about what is the motivation of those who joined, have joined hands with Mulayam Singhji. But if they have come together to plead to the BJP that what is going on in the Parliament, the impasse in Parliament is not good for the future of our country, the future of our Parliamentary democracy, I welcome that.

Question (Mr Mukesh Kaushik, United News of India): Sir, young leader Rahul Gandhi has expressed his intention to assume larger role in the Party or in the Government. What role do you visualize for Rahul Gandhi after this Monsoon Session?

PM: I have always been of the view that Rahul Gandhi should play a more active role in our Government. I have invited him to be a member of the Cabinet on several occasions, and I sincerely hope that this time he would consider very seriously my request. But I have no inside knowledge of what he is planning to do.

Question (Ms Jayalakshmi, Dinamalar): I just want to ask you one question. In Kudankulam, more than 3000 sedition cases are filed against the people those who are agitating against the Government. What is the justification of their cases, Sir? Are foreign firms involved?

PM: Madam, I am not well-informed about these cases. These must have been registered by the local Administration. But I am not well-informed about this.

Question: Sir, what are the five things that currently give you sleepless nights? Is it the state of the ethnic problem in Assam, is it the state of the economy, is it the impasse in Parliament? 

Let me say that the developments in Parliament are a source of great concern to me. But when I look to the future of our country, the way things have gone in Assam, the ethnic tensions that have disturbed peace in Assam, that part of Assam which is in the Bodoland Territorial Council Administration, is certainly a cause of worry. Similarly, the fact that thousands and thousands of people living in various parts of our country particularly in deep South - Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai have chosen, or for some reason, or the other they do not feel secure being there and go back to the Northeast is not good for the promotion of national unity and national cohesion. I have also said that growing communal tensions is yet another area where I sincerely believe all right-thinking people should sit together and control this menace. I have also said that Naxalism is yet another menace which if not controlled can hurt both our national cohesion as well as the rate of economic development of our country. If you look at the naxal-affected areas, all these areas are very rich in mineral wealth. If that mineral wealth of India is to be exploited for the purposes of the benefit of our people, then we need peace. And therefore, if Naxalism is not brought under control, if political parties do not work together to deal with this menace, there will be a severe setback, there could be a severe setback to the normal growth processes of our country.

Question: Sir, are you willing to appear before the JPC as the BJP is demanding?

PM: That is for the JPC to decide.

Question: Is there a Cabinet reshuffle happening, Sir?

PM: When there is a reshuffle, you will hear about it.

Quesion: Why are you allowing the BJP to set the political agenda?

PM: I have to maintain the dignity of the office of the Prime Minister. I can’t get into a tu-tu main-main or in a slanging match with other political leaders. So it is better, as I said earlier, that I keep silence.