Washington, DC – The United States on Friday welcomed the departing Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement that the highlight of his nearly ten years at the helm of affairs in the Government of India was the nuclear deal with the US.
In a statement to India America Today, a Department of State spokesperson said, “We welcome Prime Minister Singh’s statement that the Government of India attaches the highest priority to strengthening the strategic partnership between our two countries.”
Asked about his lowest and best moments during his third press conference in a tenure spanning a decade, Prime Minister Singh earlier delayed answering the first part of the question, saying, “Well, I will need time to reflect on this.”
Octogenarian Singh quickly added, “But certainly I think the best moment for me was when we were able to strike a nuclear deal with the United States to end the nuclear apartheid which had sought to stifle the processes of social and economic change and technical progress of our country in many ways.”
Under the deal, India will have access to US civil nuclear fuel and technology despite the fact that it has yet to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), while it has conducted nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998, and has not ruled out doing more.
The announcement from the incumbent Indian Prime Minister Singh that he will not seek a third term was widely expected, but he did acknowledge that he had been unable to tackle corruption and inflation and also generate jobs – all major concerns which routed the Congress party in recent elections.
Singh, an economist who was an unexpected choice for the top post in 2004, is India’s third longest continuously serving prime minister after Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, but his clean image was tarnished in recent years, especially over a number of corruption scandals.
Singh tried to address the burning issue of corruption scams that have plagued his second tenure, saying the government was “deeply committed to the objective of combating corruption. An array of historical legislations has been enacted to make the work of the government transparent and accountable.”
Announcing his retirement from the top position, Singh said, “In a few months time, after the general election, I will hand the baton over to a new prime minister.”
The press conference was used by the outgoing leader to announce with confidence that the next prime minister would be from the Congress-led coalition if it wins elections in 2014, anointing Rahul Gandhi, the latest member of the influential Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
Praising the outstanding credentials of Rahul Gandhi to be nominated as the party’s candidate, Singh said, “I am confident that the new generation of our leaders will also guide this great nation successfully through the uncharted and uncertain waters of global change,” adding, “I have ruled myself out as a prime ministerial candidate.”
During the question-answer session of the press conference, Indian Prime Minister Singh used words uncharacteristic of his soft-spoken style, attacking the opposition leader Narendra Modi, who is the prime ministerial candidate for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Singh said it would be “disastrous for the country” if Modi were elected the next prime minister. “Someone who presided over the massacre of innocent people should not be the prime minister,” said Singh.
Modi is the chief minister of the western state of Gujarat and has been accused of doing little to stop the 2002 anti-Muslim riots there which left more than 1,000 people dead. The US canceled a visa for Modi and hasn’t changed its policy since then.
Singh evaded the questions on his own government’s failure to bring to justice the perpetrators of the 1984 riots when more than 3,000 Sikhs were massacred in a post-Indira Gandhi assassination at the hands of her Sikh body guards, who reacted to the desecration of the holiest Sikh shrine in Amritsar, Punjab.