The last press conference by the PM, Manmohan Singh – please fill in the blanks

Remarkably, in the past 10 years, this was only the 3rd press conference that the PM has had, and even otherwise when you consider that India has a raucous democracy and an active media, the press interactions that the PM has had have been extremely limited, and yet these have been accepted as fine. But when you see an actual press conference addressed by the Prime Minister, you realize why there has been no need for regular press interactions or periodic press conferences. Of course, to some extent, the media and other advisers of the PM would have counselled that the PM should not debase himself by subjecting himself to these reporters, and it is better to keep your charm and reputation from a distance rather than having to face some tough questions.
In my view, the press conference was a total disaster, and one can wonder as to why the Congress party decided that the Prime Minister should have a press conference. If the objective was to get some kind of leg-up from the purported honesty of the Prime Minister, and his integrity, then they truly are living in a fool’s paradise. The Congress would surely have heard by now that the current Government is considered to be one of the most corrupt Governments in the country ever and there is a wave against Congress in the country right now (even members of the Congress stated this when they wanted to deny the prospect of a Modi wave after the declaration of results on December 8, 2013); and further, the name of Manmohan Singh has been dragged through the mud now. There was already speculation some time back that the Congress might try to cut some of their losses by changing the Prime Minister now rather than suffering from the negative image of the Prime Minister, but they finally denied it. After all, if they make Rahul Gandhi the PM now and he loses, he will have to take the entire blame and that is not something that the congress top leaders can accept.

If you go back to the press conference, there were low expectations from the PM in terms of what he would convey to the press, and that turned out to the scene. Anything negative was either not answered, or it was made out to be positive, or somebody else was to be blamed (so inflation is a global phenomenon that the Government is not able to control, and any other measures of corruption happened despite the best efforts of the Prime Minister and there was no way that he could take responsibility for these cases of corruption). And there were some weird replies that seemed to show either ignorance or arrogance. So, when pushed about corruption, he claimed that these supposed cases were there in UPA 1 timeline and after that the people voted back the Congress to power; conveniently forgetting that the most of the media push against these scams as well as court action was much later, in the UPA 2 timeline, and after these controversies, the Congress has been steadily losing rather than ‘getting vindicated by the votes of people’.
There were a number of embarrassing questions that were slightly longish, and the PM did the smart thing. He chose the more generic part of the questions and kept quiet on the more controversial part of the questions, and the journalists asking these questions did not push even when part of their questions were essentially ignored. The one part that I hated the most was when he talked about his legacy, claiming that even though people and media might not appreciate him now, historians will appreciate his Government. I think the PM is mistaken; if the UPA comes a cropper in the next Lok Sabha elections, the Congress will dump all the blame on his mis-governance; and even otherwise, when you look at lessons, the probable lessons will be about the weakfulness of a PM who could not prevent him own cabinet members from looting the country; and on a positive note, that the level of corruption and incompetence had so galvanized people that they were, for the first time since independence, look out for people who could bring in a revolution in terms of anti-corruption, of which the first example is the Aam Admi Party.
And the number of critical items that were totally missed revolve around more security of women, about the influence of the Maoists, and so on. In fact, if not for the comment about Narendra Modi, the speech would not have generated any discussion a few hours after this event. The Congress needs to be more careful about letting the PM speak to reporters about steps taken for public goodwill.

FINAL SCORE of the speech: 4 / 10

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