The much-vaunted first press conference of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in his second term failed to enthuse the high expectations it had built around the conference. The poor selection of journalists representing little or unknown news organisations and leaving aside top news outlets like The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, Indian Express and news agencies like PTI and UNI, left a bad taste amongst journalists.
In an unusual precedent the press conference began condolences for the bereaved people of Air India plane crash, and then came a very apt question about inflation. Journalists and viewers watching the event had expected that the PM’s maiden press conference would yield some vital answers and that the PM would provide some insight about his performance during this tenure and also announce some new initiatives on different fronts. But, as the press conference unfolded, it was becoming clear that the Prime Minister was at best evasive and he was his usual taciturn self in avoiding all the controversial topics. Even the 600-odd accredited journalists present in the huge Vigyan Bhawan hall in Delhi let off the Prime Minister rather lightly by asking scarcely any uncomfortable questions and instead, many of them started congratulating him on his successful tenure.
Although the organiser of the event, the Press Information of Bureau, had made separate sections earmarked for the print and electronic media and also for regional and foreign press, journalists from these categories were hoping to get a chance to ask questions, but were denied to the opportunity. One of the senior journalists, who is a permanent fixture on TV news channels and considers himself close to the Congress leadership, was also not allowed to ask any questions. He vent his anger at the media advisor to the Prime Minister, who was single handedly managing the entire show and even selected the questioners.
The journalists lacked the punch and failed to evoke any new and informative reply from the Prime Minister during the entire conference that last for 90 minutes. Most of the questions asked by the media were stereotypical questions and directed to elicit answers on India-Pakistan relations, Naxalism and the economic situation, particularly price rise, in the country. On the foreign policy front, the Prime Minister was flooded with questions about India-Pakistan relations, but none of the foreign hacks asked him any questions about the future of Tamils in post-LTTE era in Sri Lanka or the current imbroglio in our neighbour Nepal. On the questions on Naxalism, the Prime Minister did reiterate his statement that it was one of the biggest internal security challenges that India was facing. He, however, didn’t give out a clear out road map to tackle this menace. Also, sadly no questions were asked about environment, agricultural or even on the climate change.
The Press conference was intended to focus on the performance of his Government during the first year of his second term in office, but the quality of questions was not up to standards. Although there was a big contingent of foreign journalists based in Delhi, covering entire South Asia, the only person chosen from the foreign correspondent brigade was a Japanese media organisation which, instead of asking any proper question, complained about the problems with his accreditation to the Press Information Bureau. No wonder no other foreign journalists from bigger powerful media brands got a chance to ask any questions.
Clearly intending to emerge from the shadow of a weak Prime Minister image, Dr Manmohan Singh sat alone on the huge dais meant to seat thirteen people and did not require any prompting or consultation with key aides. He appeared unflustered and showed more assertiveness in his body language and that reflected also in the way he answered many of the answers. He however failed to impress and brought nothing new to the surface for eager news hacks.