You may not know it but Dr Manmohan Singh has been keeping himself busy for the past one and a half years. He reads a lot, meets his old friends from Cambridge and Oxford and has received visitors like former Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri and former Nepal President Ram Baran Yadav
He recently gave an exclusive interview to ‘India Today’. Here are some of the main points from that interview.
1. “The economy is not in as good shape as it could be, despite the fact that the situation today is much more favorable than it was when we, the Congress-led UPA, were in government.”
Oil prices have fallen from $150 a barrel to $30 a barrel. This has helped India’s balance of payment, has allowed the account deficit to come down and enabled the government to reduce fiscal deficit. which “in the hands of a purposeful government, this could be an opportunity to step up investment in the economy in a big way”.
2. “The government is not able to get its act together to persuade the business community to take advantage of these fortuitous circumstances to step up the rate of investment at home.”
When the UPA government was in charge, the investment rate had gone up to 35%, today it has fallen to 32%. The last two years of the UPA government saw a decline in investment rate due to “the disadvantage of a sharp hike in oil prices”.
3. “People don’t believe the government…There is today a crisis of confidence in the government.”
When people call on ministers, they say the right things but when they come out, they say that nothing much has changed.
4. “Today it seems to me that there is a lack of confidence within the business community.”
The government has to realize that the “bonanza in oil prices isn’t going to last forever”. They need to take advantage of a good opportunity when it presents itself to them.
5. “This government has already spent two years out of five without giving people the feeling that the country is on an upward path.”
One sign of upward trend in the economy is the growth of bank credit, but that has not been the case here. The bank credit isn’t moving, showing that the economy is not on an upward trend.
6. “Certainly, relations with major powers have improved. But that was also the case with us. We had good relations with Russia, China, Japan, the US, France and Germany.”
Singh refers to the nuclear deal with the UD, saying that it ended India’s isolation and was “a path-breaking effort to break the vicious circle of nuclear apartheid”.
7. “The Modi government’s handling of Pakistan is inconsistent. It has been one step forward, two steps back.”
While Singh says that inviting Sharif for Modi’s swearing-in ceremony was a good move, it was undone by making it conditional that the Pakistan government couldn’t talk to the Hurriyat, thereby cancelling talks on dealing with terror. “Whatever your views on Pakistan, our effort was that we have to engage Pakistan. They are our neighbors. We can choose our friends, but we cannot choose our neighbors.”
8. “Certainly we don’t recognize that it (the Hurriyat) is the only entity which can deal with the problems of Jammu & Kashmir. But there is no harm in talking to them.”
Singh pointed out that even Aralji’s government spoke to the Hurriyat. He said that the UPA’s stand had been that the Hurriyat should talk to India instead of talking with Pakistan.
9. “The sensitivity that is required to handle the relationship with Jammu & Kashmir has been missing in the Modi government.”
10. “Also, with regard to Nepal, once again we have a situation where the government there is accusing the government of India of putting up a blockade.”
Sending the foreign secretary to Nepal a few days before the Constitution of Nepal was being approved was too delayed a move, Singh feels. “I think this is not a very good way of tackling a very difficult problem,” he said. Since a majority of Madhesis voted for the Constitution, the government of India showed that it wasn’t too aware of what was going on in Nepal.
11. “(After the Mumbai attacks), our effort was to put pressure on the international community so they could in turn put pressure on Pakistan to ensure that those responsible for perpetrating this horrible massacre must be brought to book.”
“I think we did succeed on that score. I think the world community recognized that the government of Pakistan could not get away with saying that it had no hand in what had happened in Mumbai.”
12. “Pakistan has now gone in for tactical nuclear weapons. Therefore, one cannot talk glibly about going to war or teaching them a lesson.”
“We have to create an environment in which the people of Pakistan will themselves recognise that their government isn’t doing the right thing for the interests of both countries. Pakistan has often promised to take action against terror, except that its delivery of those promises remains a problem.”
13. “I don’t know if it (Modi’s quick trip to Lahore) was well-thought-out. There seems to be no evidence that the Pakistanis have taken action against those who perpetrated the crime in Pathankot.”
Ayesha Siddiqa, a well-known Pakistani journalist, went to the headquarters of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, Bahawalpur, after it was said that Pakistan took action against the Jaish. She reported that everything was normal. And now Pakistan is asking for more evidence, just like they did with the UPA.
14. “If you are not sure about the outcome of your initiative, I think you are wasting the levers of power that you have regarding Pakistan.”
Modi stated that he was in Kabul, when he spoke to Nawaz Sharif who asked him to come. Singh says that he feels that is not the right way to do things when the relationship between Pakistan and India is so sensitive.
15. “If there is no effective outcome, then it is a wasted effort. You only compromise your own ability to deal with the problem.”
When asked if Modi was just being like Singh himself by having breakfast in Kabul, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Delhi, he said, “What I did not do was succumb to pressure from various sides to go to Pakistan when I had no assurance that some effective outcomes will be there.”
16. “In matters of state, one has to be full of sentiments, but one can never be sentimental.”
Singh made this statement when asked about his rumored visit to his village Gah. He stated he would like to go to Gah but the occasion must be more than a “mere visit”.
17. “Yes, there were back-channel talks (with Pakistan on Kashmir), and they were moving in the right direction.”
“The solution to Kashmir, it has been recognized since the Simla Conference, must be a joint effort of the two countries. Our view with regard to Jammu & Kashmir was that borders cannot be redrawn. If borders cannot be redrawn, then you must find other ways of dealing with the problem which will satisfy the people of Jammu & Kashmir as well as India and Pakistan.”
18. “In my view, the PDP is now increasingly conscious of the fact that what they have done with this marriage with the BJP doesn’t have the support of the ordinary Kashmiri people.”
The PDP want to be part of the government but are worried about losing popularity. It is up to the central government and BJP to ensure that the PDP doesn’t have that worry when dealing with them.
19. “The PM talks about ‘vikas’ but in the growth rate there is no significant difference from when we left power.”
“In our last year, the growth rate was 6.9 per cent, while the latest figures today show that it is hovering around 7-7.2 per cent. So, despite the significant improvement in the balance of payments, the economy is not moving forward which was the aspiration and for which the government had made promises.”
20. “The public in our country expects the prime minister to take the lead in managing public opinion. But he has never spoken.”
“He is the prime minister of all the people of India and he must give every Indian the confidence that in him we have a prime minister who cares for our well-being.”
21. “So was Atalji (a long-time member of the RSS), but Atalji grew in office.”
“They have a huge majority in the Lok Sabha? In the hands of a purposeful government and wise leadership, there are enormous opportunities to make progress in the management of the economy and in containing social tensions.”
22. “But there (at tea in the beginning of the last session) also Mr Jaitley did all the talking, the PM kept quiet.”
“He had invited me earlier as well, and after all, if the PM invites me, I felt it is my duty to go. So I went to meet him. At that time too I had told him that if you really want to improve relations with the Congress party, it’s much more essential than ever before for you to establish contact with the Congress leadership, particularly with Soniaji and Rahul Gandhi.”
23. “I don’t think he would ever do that in public!”
Dr Singh said the above statement when told that Modi was giving credit to him. He had revealed that when the PM asked him, “What should be done with Pakistan?”, he advised him to engage Pakistan, citing talks between the USSR and the US despite increasing tension during the missile crisis. When exiting Sharad Pawar’s birthday party, the two met and Modi said to Singh, “With regard to Pakistan, we are following what you have suggested to me.”
24. “I had not entered politics to make money for myself, my family or friends.”
“I felt very sad and hurt when BJP members would walk into the well of the House and say, ‘Pradhan mantri chor hai.’ That really hurt me.” Dr Singh ended the interview by stating once again that he believes history will treat him much better than the present. And I do agree with that.