Prime minister Manmohan Singh’s 90-minute second press conference in six years is neither heady or headline worthy. In the case of other prime ministers and presidents it would be interpreted as a PR fiasco.
It is not so in the case of Singh. He is not an eloquent public speaker and even his opening remarks were taken as read because copies of the statement were distributed to the journalists in the spacious Vigyan Bhavan auditorium in the capital on Monday morning. The question-and-answer session began straightaway.
He is also not good at repartee. His straight answers do not make for exciting sound bites. There was a story in the 1990s that the American magazine, Time, photographer grumbled that PV Narasimha Rao had a very uninteresting face and he was told that prime ministers are not made on the basis of faces which interest photographers.
Something similar can be said about Singh. He is not the prime minister because he thinks on his feet and he is eloquent and he is witty. At the end of the press conference, journalists struggled to find that juicy one-liner from Singh.
There were no major policy announcements, whether it has to do with the revived talks with Pakistan, or with the strategy in dealing with Naxalites.
He reiterated the UPA government’s known positions. There were some awkward questions about his squabbling cabinet colleagues but he did not seem to be too embarrassed by it. He batted for telecommunication minister A Raja without batting an eyelid. When he was asked about whether Rahul Gandhi, Congress’ heir-apparent, would be brought into the cabinet, he said he had persuaded the younger Gandhi to join the government but that Gandhi wanted to work with the party.
This was followed by the rude question as to when he would make way for Rahul Gandhi to be prime minister. He said he would want younger people to lead and he will be ready to walk away. He was firm on whether he would opt for retirement any time soon.
No, he would not because there were tasks remaining to be done. That shows the man, determined in his own way. At the end of the first year of his second term, he may not be the undisputed leader — he never was that anyway — but he is holding the fort alright. He is vulnerable to criticism but that is unlikely to unsettle him.