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PM Hints At Cabinet Reshuffle Next Month

New Delhi: Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on Monday made it clear that he was not thinking of retiring and indicated that he would “look at options” of a Cabinet reshuffle before the winter session
PTI September 06, 2010 14:37 IST
New Delhi: Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on Monday made it clear that he was not thinking of retiring and indicated that he would “look at options” of a Cabinet reshuffle before the winter session of Parliament beginning November 7.

Singh was speaking to a group of editors at his residence over breakfast.  "I would like to reduce the average age of my Cabinet," he said with a chuckle.

The Prime Minister also ruled out giving free foodgrains to all people living below poverty line, saying that nearly 37 per cent of the people were presently living below poverty line.

Rejecting perceptions that there was a disconnect between his government and the Congress party, he said,  expression of different view points was not  "necessarily a bad thing".

He did not see anything wrong in ministers and party functionaries  expressing  different points of view because the Congress party itself was a movement within which there have been differences of opinion as happens in a democracy.

However, it was necessary for the Cabinet and the government to function with a "certain degree of cohesion" and his Cabinet had functioned with a "much greater degree of cohesion" than even the first Cabinet headed by Jawaharlal Nehru, Singh told a group of editors at his residence here.

He pointed out that there was almost daily exchange of letters between Nehru and his deputy Sardar Patel. There were differences between Indira Gandhi and her deputy Morarji Desai.

During Mrs Gandhi's time a group of "Young Turks" led by Chandrashekhar openly constituted a dissident group, he said during the 80-minute interaction that turned into a virtual press conference covering domestic political issues, economy and foreign policy.

Prime Minister emphasised that he was not aware of anything that could constitute a disconnect between the Congress party and the government.  "Allowing people to express views is not not necessarily a sign of drift," he said.

"I can't say I will shut up every colleague," he said, at the same time thanking his Cabinet colleagues for their fullest support.

Singh said that during his six years in power his Cabinet had met almost every week.  Issues are debated and ministers abide by the decisions taken thereafter.

When a questioner suggested that it appeared his government was "marking time" while Rahul Gandhi was "spreading his wings", the Prime Minister laughed it away.  In any case politics was a competitive game, he said.

He agreed with Rahul Gandhi's view that there are two Indias.  The inequality of income and wealth was a fact of life and the gap between the rich and the poor had to be bridged, he said.

The Prime Minister listed the Naxal problem, Kashmir situation and the forthcoming judgement in the Babri Masjid case as some of the top issues that would have a bearing on how India would shape in the years ahead.

About the Naxal problem, he said that it was one of the greatest security challenges to which there was no no "quick fix".  He favoured a two-pronged approach of addressing valid economic and social reasons behind the problem and at the same time enforcing law and order.

With regard to Kashmir, Singh disclosed that he was calling a meeting of Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS) later this week to discuss "threadbare" how to tackle the situation.

"I can't promise you that I can produce a rabbit out of my hat ....the country must learn to be patient," he said.

Answering a question about allegations of corruption against some of his ministers which had "sullied" the government's image, the Prime Minister said that corruption constituted a major challenge for India's polity.  But every opponent cannot be condemned as being corrupt.

He promised action in regard to serious allegations of corruption in the Cabinet.

Singh said that with regard to allocation of Spectrum in which Telecom Minister A Raja is facing allegations "I took adequate precaution and took note of what appeared in the media".  He declined to comment any further saying that the matter was sub-judice. PTI