What Dr Manmohan Singh was asked at his final press meet, 10 years ago today
India is in for better times…our efforts since the global financial crisis are paying off and India’s growth momentum is showing signs of revival: Dr Manmohan Singh, 3 January 2014
It was a packed Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi where then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh declared that he believed history would be kinder to him and his government than the contemporary media and opposition. It was also the press conference in which he said that he sincerely believed it would be disastrous for India if Narendra Modi were to become prime minister, a remark he later said he regretted making.
No journalist asked him if he preferred vegetarian food or non-vegetarian, whether he kept a wallet and if so, how much money was in it. Nobody asked how long and hard he worked and whether in his village in undivided India, he liked eating mangoes, or his choice of juicy fruits.
Instead, Navika Kumar from Times Now asked him to explain why the then Himachal Pradesh chief minister was taking decisions on businesses despite having a conflict of interest. The PM replied that he was aware of media reports and had received a letter from the BJP’s Arun Jaitley (who would have briefed Kumar) and would look into the issue.
Senior editor and journalist Alok Mehta asked whether his bitter experience with coalition governments had convinced him of the need for a presidential form of government. Dr Singh said he had not applied his mind to this issue, but his instinctive response is that for a country of India’s size and diversities, parliamentary form of government was the best.
More than one journalist asked him about allegations of corruption against the UPA government. “I can honestly say that I have never used my office to enrich my family and friends,” he replied, and pointed out that allegations around 2G and the coal scam were investigated and were in court.
Sheila Bhatt asked if there was a tussle between the Congress president and the prime minister. The PM was at his diplomatic best and said he had actually received enormous support from the Congress president. The Tribune representative asked how he would rate his performance and Dr Singh replied that if people compared nine years of the UPA with six years of the NDA between 1998 and 2004, the UPA’s performance would be deemed to be superior.
ABP News asked if he at any time had thought of resigning. "Never", was the reply. Business Standard asked if price rise could have been responsible for the Congress losing state elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in 2013. "I must be honest in conceding that price rise could have been a factor…but the government tried to do everything to protect the poor," he answered.
Answering questions without looking at any note for the better part of one hour and 17 minutes, the only time he raised his voice was when he was asked to respond to allegations that he was a "weak prime minister". He did not believe he was a weak prime minister, he said, and asked whether strong leaders allowed blood to flow on the streets of Ahmedabad.
Posting the full video recording of Dr Manmohan Singh’s last press conference as prime minister, his then media advisor Pankaj Pachauri on Wednesday wrote on X, “The last press conference by an Indian PM was held exactly 10 years ago today. 62 unscripted questions answered with 100+ journalists present.”
“I am not a Prime Minister who is afraid of the media” Dr Singh quipped later, recalled Pachauri.
Then information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari, who was present with the PM at Vigyan Bhavan, recalled: "Former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh addressed/ interacted with the Press 117 times during his 10-year tenure between 2004-14.
On foreign trips- 72
Annual Pressers - 10
On state visits- 23
On Election/political/manifesto - 12"
In the last 10 years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has answered just two questions — at a White House press conference in Washington DC in June 2023. Wall Street Journal correspondent Sabrina Siddiqui asked PM Modi, “There are many human rights groups who say your government has discriminated against religious minorities and sought to silence its critics. What steps are you and your government willing to take to improve the rights of Muslims and other minorities in your country and uphold free speech?”
Speaking through an interpreter, Modi responded, “In India’s democratic values, there is absolutely no discrimination, neither on basis of caste, creed or age or any kind of geographic location. Indeed, India is a democracy. And as President Biden also mentioned, India and America — both countries — democracy is in our DNA. The democracy is our spirit. Democracy runs in our veins. We live democracy.”