Radical steps could lead to return of inspector raj: PM

NEW DELHI: While India prepares itself to fight corruption, which has become a “big issue” and caused “genuine concern”, it should guard against radical steps that could turn it into a police state or bring back inspector raj, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Wednesday.The remark came during an interaction with a group of editors. The interaction was held to counter the growing perception that at a time when the government was faced with an image deficit on the issue of corruption and other challenges, the Prime Minister had not been communicating enough with people. This was the fourth interaction the Prime Minister had with the media in his second term. He stepped out to rebut the perception that he had been reduced to a lame duck and could be asked to make room for Rahul Gandhi.Corruption, which has been seized upon by the opposition to torment the government and the Congress, took up a huge chunk of the Prime Minister’s inaugural remarks. It figured prominently also in the question-answer session that followed, with Singh admitting that the telecom and Commonwealth Games scams had taken a toll on his government’s reputation and anguished the middle classes.”Some events – the telecom scam, the Commonwealth Games — have caused genuine concern among large classes of middle class opinion that cannot be wished away,” he said. “In the situation that we are faced today, day in day out I think we are described as the most corrupt government.”

Indeed, one of the editors told Singh that while his personal integrity remained untarnished, perception had grown that he had “allowed things to happen”. Interpreting the question as echoing the view that he failed to stop A Raja from perpetrating the 2G scam, Singh suggested that he was betrayed by the sacked telecom minister. He said that as Prime Minister he had to trust his minister when he promised to abide by rules. “How can I conduct a post mortem? I am not an expert in telecom ministers. As Prime Minister, it is not that I am very knowledgeable about these matters. Or, that I can spend so much of my time, to look after each and every ministry.”

Singh also criticized Raja for wrongly claiming that he had PM’s endorsement. “One observation that my private secretary recorded, that the PM says that there must be transparency — the minister should have said that it was his responsibility — rather than saying that the Prime Minister has also endorsed it.”When told that the government failed to take notice of newspaper reports about irregularities in the allocation of 2G licences and spectrum, the Prime Minister said that he could not have gone by newspaper reports alone. “There were people on both sides writing to me. If I go by the newspapers every day, I would have to refer everything to the CBI, and the CBI would sit in judgment. And if I continued in this vein, our public sector would not be able to perform. It would greatly weaken the (entrepreneurial forces) that have unleashed, and willy-nilly install a police raj”.

He hit out at the Comptroller and Auditor General, whose reports on 2G and alleged favours to oil firms have embarrassed the government, for overstepping its “constitutional mandate”. “It has never been in the past that the CAG has held a press conference as the present CAG (Vinod Rai) has done. Never in the past has the CAG decided to comment on a policy issue. It should limit the office to the role defined in the Constitution”.In his opening remarks, Singh said that their post facto analysis of decisions by CAG and parliamentary committees did not recognize that the government had fewer facts when decisions were made.He criticized the media for creating the perception that his government was under siege and for simultaneously playing “the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge”. ”

I think there is a growing perception that this government is under siege, that we have not been able to deliver on agenda. An atmosphere has been created in the country – and this I say with all humility – the role of the media in many cases have become that of the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge,” Singh said.At another point during the interaction, he said sections of the media had lent an ear to the opposition’s clever propaganda that his government had become a lame-duck government.The reporting of court cases by the media also came in for criticism from the Prime Minister. He said he had discussed the issue with judges. “They (judges) say that the way press reports creates a real problem. I think everybody should exercise restraint … press reportage causes sensationalism,” he said. – TOI