Weakest PM Proof of the pudding is in eating

New Delhi, Feb 1 | Updated: Feb 2 2006, 05:30am hrs
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did a fine balancing act on Wednesday, seeking to dispel the perceptions of being a weak head of government while defining his relationship with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and giving his views on the occupational hazards of leading a coalition with the support of ideologically-opposed Left parties.

Using his annual press conference here to signal that he should be judged on the basis of performance rather than comments by Opposition leaders, Mr Singh quipped: The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Dont judge me by what Opposition leaders say.

He conceded that there were two power centres, but argued that it was a harmonious relationship that existed between him and Ms Gandhi. In her two capacities as Congress president and UPA chairperson, she has a legitimate right to question the actions of the government. I dont think it is a source of weakness for me. She is a source of strength, he said. I think the system has worked very well. Her advice and guidance have been a source of enormous strength, he added.

That he knew it was a thin line he was treading on when it came to party matters, was clear by his refusal to elaborate on political queries. Party is not so strong in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. We need to give more attention, was his short answer on the perceptional mismatch between strides being taken by the government and shortcomings of the party in several states, especially the Hindi heartland.

Mr Singh was also careful not to fall into any trap on Natwar Singhs future. He refused to give any response on his rehabilitation, clearly signalling that the prerogative was that of Ms Gandhi. He also sidestepped questions on Quattrocchi.

On running a coalition, he said, Coalition does impose some constraints. We cannot move fast. However, he added the UPA had successfully learnt the ropes of running it. About the pressures from the Left, he said, In a democracy, pressures always function. I look upon the pressures in a coalition as part of introspection. But decisions were always taken on the basis of consensus, he added.