Amid speculation that Dr Manmohan Singh will not seek a third term as prime minister (PM), the man who has been PM for nearly 10 years on the trot will address a press conference on Friday.
Dr Singh has already indicated that he would prefer Rahul Gandhi to be PM should the Congress-led UPA return to power. If the octogenarian opts out of the race, Sonia Gandhi may well announce the party’s prime ministerial candidate during the day-long AICC session here on January 17.
During Friday’s press conference at the newly built Media Centre, Dr Singh will attempt to explain the government’s economic policies which were blamed for the Congress’s rout in the assembly elections in four states. It will be the PM’s fourth such interaction with the national and Delhi-based foreign media — he addressed two pressers during UPA-1 and another after retaining power in 2009.
The PM is expected to be grilled on issues like inflation and corruption that have dogged his government. However, Congress sources said it is an opportunity for him to highlight important decisions taken by his government since 2004. The Congress leadership persuaded Dr Singh to meet the media as he still commands the respect of the common man and is fit to answer questions about development often raised by Narendra Modi, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.
Dr Singh will also get an opportunity to dispel the notion of the government being soft and indecisive. Apart from this, he will be able to debunk the belief that he has shied away from the media. “We know his mind only when he speaks to the accompanying media team on-board Air India plane at 10,000 feet above sea level during foreign tours,” BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
The press conference was also necessitated as the Congress leadership fears that Dr Singh may face a rough audience at the AICC session. Party workers are set to rake up issues of back-breaking and unending price rise, corruption and arrogance of many Union ministers.
Fearing that they may not allow the PM to clarify his stand, he has been advised to spell out his views on Friday to blunt their anger as they hold his government’s policies to be the root cause of the party’s diminishing popularity. Information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari, however, downplayed Singh’s press conference, saying he must have spoken to the media on more than 100 occasions.
Tomorrow’s press conference will be Dr Singh’s second such interaction since becoming PM in May 2009 though he met five editors once and also some TV editors later. Records show that Jawaharlal Nehru was the only PM who addressed journalists regularly. His successor Lal Bahadur Shastri gave up the practice, which was later revived by Indira Gandhi. Rajiv Gandhi continued with the tradition. However, PV Narasimha Rao discontinued the practice and HD Deve Gowda, IK Gujral and AB Vajpayee did not address press conferences either. They preferred to speak to journalists during their public appearances or on foreign tours.
Singh revived the practice when he addressed his first press conference on Sept 4, 2004. He again interacted with the press without any of his aides on February 1, 2006. However, during UPA-II, apart from the one interaction on May 24, 2010, he has remained reticent and uncomfortable in front of journalists.