The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PM vote of confidence in polity
- When the curtain parted: The different faces and voices of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, Sept. 4: Like the country’s economy, the polity too is resilient.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s spirited assertion came as he fielded questions on recent controversial actions by Punjab and Manipur apparently without consulting the Centre.

Singh, who was addressing his first full-fledged news conference in the capital as Prime Minister, did not fault the Congress-led government in Manipur for lifting the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from greater Imphal.

In the first place, the act was enforced in the state on the basis of a decision by the state government. The state government was, therefore, within its rights to modify its operation. It would be wrong to say that the decision would adversely affect Centre-state relations, Singh said.

Actually, the state government deserved “our sympathy and support” as it was grappling with a difficult situation, he added.

Singh’s words came even as home minister Shivraj Patil heads on a healing-touch mission to the northeastern state, which has been racked by protests after the alleged custodial rape and killing of a woman accused of links with militants.

Dwelling on the larger problem of militancy, the Prime Minister iterated that his government was prepared to talk to all groups in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast who agree to shun violence “without pre-conditions”. That included the Hurriyat, he said.

The Prime Minister said the Centre was concerned about inter-state water disputes as manifested recently in the wake of the Punjab government’s unilateral decision to terminate its water-sharing agreements with neighbouring states.

“Water related issues have sensitivity and delicacy. Water gives rise to strong emotions. Whatever we do has to be done keeping in mind this sensitivity and delicacy,” Singh said.

The Centre’s concern was reflected in the way it handled the Punjab issue, he said. However, the Prime Minister sounded optimistic about addressing such sensitive issues in a way that would not in the end hurt the federal polity. The Centre has referred the matter to the Supreme Court for its advice on the legality of the Punjab government’s decision.

Recalling a similar move on the Cauvery issue by Karnataka over a decade ago in which the apex court’s ruling prevailed, the Prime Minister indicated that the situation created by the Punjab government’s unilateral action, too, would be finally decided by judicial advice.

Singh’s 90-minute long news conference, however, had nothing for his Telengana Rashtra Samiti ally to cheer about. Asked about the creation of a separate Telengana state, he said: “We need to have consultations. Only after proper consultations we will be able to consider it.”

Singh favoured a consensus among all political parties to evolve a mechanism to prevent the entry of tainted people to legislatures. “All political parties must sit and agree on electoral reform to ensure that so-called tainted people with criminal backgrounds do not get elected,” he said.

He said the “problem had to be solved at the roots”.

If tainted people could get elected to Parliament, they would also get inducted into the ministry, he added.

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