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We are not apologetic about our Presidential choice : Manmohan

Friday 6 July 2007, by PARSAI*Gargi

‘We have made the right choice. She is deserving of the high office’

Shekhawat is a BJP member but he contests as an Independent

Language used by Advani “not healthy”

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday described the UPA Presidential nominee Pratibha Patil as “an outstanding candidate” who survived in public life for 25 years because of her competence.

Speaking to a group of women journalists at his residence here, the Prime Minister said there were no charges against her. “I have already said the allegations are mud-slinging. We are not apologetic about her choice. Not only the UPA but the entire country is united about her. We have made the right choice. She is deserving of the high office.

Dr Singh said Ms. Patil had been in public life since 1962, as a member of the Maharashtra Assembly, State Minister, Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, and Governor of Rajasthan for three years.

Taking a dig at the Bhartiya Janata Party, he said even though Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was its member, he did not want to contest the Presidential elections under the BJP banner and wanted to be an Independent.

Dr Singh began his 45-minute interaction, saying he attached great importance to the meeting as it was taking place in the year India would have its first woman President. “This meeting is a celebration of that year.” Women’s Bill

To a question on the Women’s Reservation Bill, Dr. Singh said the UPA Government would place it in Parliament as early as possible. In a coalition government, he could not have a situation in which his own Minister from another party would stand up and oppose the Bill. “Before politicians become statesmen, they have to remain in government longer,” he said with a smile.

On the relationship with the Left, which extends outside support to the government, Dr Singh said though the Congress was not well-equipped to handle the dynamics of coalition politics, it had not done badly. In the three years the Congress cohabited with the Left parties, there was “cooperative attitude.” With the rest of the parties, Cabinet meetings were held every week and these were smooth.

Dr. Singh took exception to recent comments by BJP leader L.K. Advani that he was a “handpicked Prime Minister.

The language used by Mr Advani is not healthy. We may differ, but we must learn to respect one another, and that is missing. That kind of situation is not good for the government and the principal Opposition party.

On the economic front, Dr. Singh said India was poised to sustain a growth rate of 8-9 per cent. Agriculture was cause for concern and it would be addressed. Already a Rs 25,000-crore package was announced for States which came up with climate and region-specific, district schemes.

He, along with Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, would visit a few States to assess the progress on the farm front.

On the issue of fertile land coming under Special Economic Zones, Dr. Singh admitted that some mistakes were made in the past and said the government was mindful of the side-effects. “There was no developed country in the world that was not industrial. It should be done in a manner that the [urban-rural] gap was not widened and the dispossessed rural families acquired a stake in the new enterprise.

The Prime Minister said the progress in various sectors was far from uniform. The priority in the next two years would be for health, education and agriculture.

On the recent clashes between Gujjars and Meenas in Rajasthan over reservation under the Scheduled Tribe category, he said there was no proposal to undertake a caste-based census.

Dr. Singh played down the arrival of the nuclear-powered American aircraft carrier USS Nimitz to the Chennai coast, saying it was an ordinary development. In the past naval ships from France, the United Kingdom and even China visited the Indian coast.

In a lighter vein, he said, “In fact, I came to know about it from the newspapers.

See online : The Hindu

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