The PM reiterated that the mandate is for "a government committed to secularism and that believes in fostering an inclusive society" and the objective is "the country must forge ahead with a higher rate of economic growth, but that growth process must generate more employment, must be equitable, socially just and humane".

The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, addressed a Press Conference here today. In his opening statement, the Prime Minister said:

“Ever since I assumed the Office of the Prime Minister, I received several requests from distinguished ladies and gentlemen of the Press to interview me. Unfortunately, because of my other preoccupations, I have not been able to accede to these requests, but nevertheless, I have been very keen to meet all of you. I am told that a conference of this type at the level of the Prime Minister has not been held for atleast a decade. I recognize there are risks, but I am ready to throw the pigeon among the cats. I have a prepared text by way of introductory remarks but I thought the best way to use this time is to give you all the time and attention and this statement of mine can be taken as read. So that will give you more time to ask me any question that you would like me to answer.

It gives me great pleasure to be here with you this evening. Ever since we came into Government I have been keen to meet with you. Many of you have sought appointments for interviews but I was unable to respond partly due to my busy work schedule and partly because Parliament was in session. I am delighted to be able to meet all of you here this evening. I wish you all well and, through you I wish to convey my best wishes to each and every citizen of our country.

I have had the opportunity to share my thoughts on some issues of national concern with the people of our country on more than one occasion in recent weeks. However, I still regret the fact that I couldn’t do so in Parliament while conveying my government’s gratitude to the Rashtrapati for his Inaugural Address. I do sincerely hope such a situation will not arise again and Parliament is able to function normally in future.

The past three months have been rather unusual. A new government is normally granted what you in the media call a ‘honeymoon period’ of settling down to work. Unfortunately, I have not been granted that indulgence and we have had to hit the ground running. As I look back on these three months I can confidently say that despite this rough start, our government has started translating the mandate and the message of the 2004 elections into policies and programmes.

What is that mandate and what was the message? The people of India voted decisively against the National Democratic Alliance and in favour of an alternative government. A government committed to secularism and that believes in fostering an inclusive society. The United Progressive Alliance was a natural product of that mandate and reflects the preference of the overwhelming majority of the electorate. The National Common Minimum Programme of the U.P.A. will be the guiding framework for Government policy.

Our Government’s objective is clear: The country must forge ahead with a higher rate of economic growth, but that growth process must generate more employment, must be equitable, socially just and humane. Agriculture and our farmers must receive more focused attention. India must shine for the poor, it must shine for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, other backward classes and Minorities. India must shine in the cities and the villages. We want India to shine, and shine for all.

I believe we have already initiated a clear shift in the direction of our policies to this end. Though we did not get enough time to draft the Union Budget, and we have only half the financial year left, we have initiated some important changes in the direction of economic policy. Next week I will be chairing a full meeting of the Planning Commission where a concrete shape will be given to the implementation of many assurances given in the NCMP. The Planning Commission has been re-energised as an active instrument of development policy, with a special focus on infrastructure. Many of the initiatives suggested in the NCMP have already been taken up for implementation. Important Commissions and Committees promised in the NCMP are being constituted.

Inflation has caused some concern. But, I assure you that despite increasing world oil prices, a delayed arrival of the monsoon and avoidable disruptions caused by such actions as the truckers’ strike we shall be able to control inflationary pressures. We shall take firm measures to check inflation without hurting the growth process.

The security situation in the country has been a cause for concern for some time now. Our government is committed to dealing effectively with the internal security challenges. We would, however, do so in a humane and compassionate manner and in keeping with democratic traditions. We will not compromise with militancy and violence, but we are ready to talk to any and all disaffected groups, whether in Jammu and Kashmir, in the North-Eastern States, or elsewhere. We are not laying down any pre-conditions, but expect that those who resort to militancy should eschew the path of violence, and stop the killing of innocent citizens. I will be visiting Jammu & Kashmir shortly.

I must pay tribute to the disciplined and patient manner in which the armed forces have answered the call of duty, having been drawn into internal security duty. We must create an environment in which our police and para military forces can deal effectively with the law and order situation. For this, it is necessary to restructure and revitalize these forces. At the same time, we have to reform our development administration to tackle the problem of poverty and unemployment at their roots; particularly in Jammu & Kashmir and the States of the North East.

Our government is alive to the sentiments and concerns of the people of Jammu & Kashmir and the North-East and will do the utmost to guarantee a life of dignity and self-respect of every citizen. We will take measures to accelerate the tempo of development.

Vis-à-vis Pakistan, we have consistently declared our commitment to the peace process and to carrying forward the dialogue process. Our approach to talks will be based on realism and the belief that the people of South Asia are bound together by a shared destiny. It is not in my nature to promise a false dawn but I do believe in the ancient saying that ‘a road is made by walking’, step by step.

We will continue to strengthen strategic and political equations with the United States and Russian Federation. We shall move forward on resolving the boundary issue with China and fashion a stable cooperative relationship with that country.

It is my expectation that the agreements relating to the first phase of the Next Steps In Strategic Partnership (NSSP) with the United States would be finalized soon as the Foreign Secretary is visiting Washington DC in the coming fortnight for final negotiations on this subject. This will enable closer bilateral cooperation in the areas of science and technology and space exploration.

I have repeatedly emphasized the importance of reforming government and improving governance in the country. This is not a partisan or a party political agenda. I have sought a national consensus on a code of conduct, a code of ethics and a code of best practices in government. This is in the national interest. Whether in accelerating the rate of economic growth or dealing with law and order and the internal security challenge, the real task at hand is to reform the three arms of governance - the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Major political parties are today in government in one state or another. Whatever our political differences, all of us have a shared interest and a joint stake in improving the effectiveness and efficiency of government.

We will convene an all-party conference on electoral reform to forge a consensus on all aspects of electoral reform, including criminalisation of political processes. This malady must be nipped in the bud, at the electoral stage, if we seriously wish to deal with its consequences for governance.

I have only one sincere request to make of you. While pursuing your desire to grab headlines and seek sound bytes, under the pressure of professional and commercial competition and in the daily race for racy news, please keep the national interest uppermost in your mind. We are in a race against time to improve the quality of life of a billion people, to regain for our ancient land its rightful glory. This national endeavour should not be hurt by petty and divisive politics.

Elections are the correct instruments for change of governments in a democracy. Once an election is over and the results are in, a government is formed. The parties in power and those in opposition must then work for the welfare of the people.

The Opposition political parties are adversaries in polls, but partners in progress. In fact, today the same party is in power in one state and in opposition in another. This must make all of us more responsible, not more contentious. Every political party has a right to seek power, but once the people’s verdict is in, the winner must govern. This is the sacred responsibility the electorate has given us, and we will fulfil it.”