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PM not keen on wielding broom

New Delhi, Aug. 9: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may not be in favour of having committed ideologues in key positions in the government but he is against a witch-hunt, sources close to him said against the backdrop of Arjun Singh’s appeal to “cleanse” the system.

Manmohan Singh, the sources said, would rather have individuals of professional excellence and merit heading statutory bodies and academic institutions than those subscribing to the ideology of a particular colour, saffron or red.

The Prime Minister’s views may be reflected in his first Independence Day speech where he is expected to stress on how leaders of “merit, excellence and professionalism” should head institutions.

However, the sources clarified that this view is not linked to another sensitive subject, reservation, and should not be taken to mean that he is against affirmative action on jobs and education institutions. His observations on merit and excellence will be juxtaposed with quotes from B.R. Ambedkar, emphasising the need to empower marginalised and oppressed social groups.

The issue of a “committed” administration was raised by human resource development minister Arjun Singh at a convention on secularism yesterday. He asked the Prime Minister to “cleanse” the administration of people owing allegiance to the Sangh parivar.

While official circles conceded that such individuals had permeated three sectors of the government — education, culture and security agencies — they said the answer was not in “replacing one set of fundamentalists with another”.

The Prime Minister, the sources said, was keen to ensure that appointments to senior positions in institutions like the Nehru Memorial Centre, the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, the Indian Council for Social Sciences Research and universities are based on certain norms.

“Everybody should recognise the heads of such institutions for their standing and authority, instead of their ideological pursuit,” the sources said.

An example cited from the NDA era was that of R.V. Panchmukhi, a specialist on international trade. But what apparently endeared him to the BJP was the discovery that he was also a Sanskrit scholar. The BJP-RSS found the economics-Sanskrit combination irresistible and Panchmukhi was called to head a cell on macro economics and also made the vice-chancellor of the Sanskrit Vidyapeeth.

Manmohan Singh’s views do not find a place in the UPA’s Common Minimum Programme that underlined the need to deal with “all obscurantist and fundamentalist elements” in an uncompromising manner.

The sources ruled out the possibility of a party-Prime Minister contradiction in this regard, given the fact that the human resource development minister was “detoxifying” his department. However, they conceded that the issue could turn tricky while handling the security agencies. The government’s feedback is that in the six years the NDA ruled, some intelligence agencies were packed with coalition loyalists.

The RSS today joined issue with Arjun Singh, threatening to sue him for his “utterly uncalled for and irresponsible” allegation that held the Sangh responsible for Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination.

“People who sit at the feet of Italian fascists and Stalinist Leftists have no right to accuse the staunch nationalists of the RSS,” spokesman Ram Madhav said.

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