Can’t underestimate Oppn’s power: PM

Hails Narasimha Rao for ‘momentous decisions’.

Written by Express News Service | New Delhi | Published: December 7, 2013 12:54 am

In perhaps his first public admission of the challenge posed by BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi,Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday said the opposition could never be “underestimated” and that he takes it “very seriously”.

“As a political party,we can never underestimate the power of the opposition. I am one of them who takes the opposition very seriously. There is no room for complacency,” Singh said,speaking at the 11th edition of the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit. He was responding to a question about the difference in views among his cabinet colleagues — one had stated that Modi posed a challenge while another had dismissed it.

Singh said the Congress was going to fight the Lok Sabha elections with the “spirit of self-confidence”,whatever be the results of the assembly polls on Sunday.

Delivering his keynote address,Singh made the election pitch for the Lok Sabha polls,laying down the UPA’s “strategy for inclusive growth” and hard-selling his government’s key reforms like job guarantee for the rural poor through MGNREGA and governance accountability through the Right to Information Act.

The Prime Minister,however,admitted there were “many challenges and problems and weaknesses” in the implementation of the government’s inclusive growth strategy. “Our biggest challenge in trying to sustain this process of inclusive growth has been to bring rates of inflation down and keep the fiscal deficit under control. These remain a challenge and I admit that they are being seriously addressed,” he said.

Singh,who was finance minister in the Narasimha Rao government in 1991 when India initiated bold economic reforms,hailed Rao’s “momentous decisions” in both the economic and foreign policy spheres. “Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao,we took momentous decisions both with respect to our economic policies and with respect to our foreign policy. Prime Minister Narasimha Rao launched what has come to be known as India’s ‘Look East Policy’,linking India to the new growth engines of Asia,” he said.

This reference to Rao comes just a few months after his Independence Day speech where he invoked the former PM’s name to explain the political push that was needed for reforms he kickstarted as finance minister in the Rao cabinet.

Taking a dig at Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal-led movement against corruption,Singh said some “well-meaning and concerned citizens” had tried to “spread cynicism by accusing the entire political class of being corrupt and anti-people”. “Many began to suggest that democracy had not served India well…. Did that turn our people against democracy? Did that make them despair about the electoral system? No. Look at the voter turnout at every election over the past two years and in the just concluded Assembly elections,” Singh said.

Seeking to allay concerns about the economy,he said,“Through all the ups and down in the face of global challenges and despite the burden of past policy mistakes,our economy is on a rising growth trajectory.” Claiming that a “revolution of rising expectations was underway”,Singh said he welcomed it.

Addressing the business community,Singh said Indian business leaders had been “worried” in the past few months and that he understood “their anxieties about our red tape,our tax laws and administration,our regulations and procedures”. “Yet,I must say,despite all these problems,Indian business and enterprise has demonstrated its ability to cope with competition,” he said.

Asked about the Communal Violence Bill at a time when the government is facing some stiff opposition from the BJP and other parties,Singh dismissed suggestions that the Bill was a vote-catching gimmick and said it was a Bill “whose time had come”.

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