09/06/2004, 00.00
INDIA
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In his first press conference PM Singh says he is "against all forms of fundamentalism"

Prime Minister rejects accusations he is Sonia Gandhi's "puppet".

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – In the first press conference held by an Indian Prime Minister in 12 years, newly appointed Manmohan Singh spoke with journalists for about 90 minutes answering their questions with ease. Direct and to the point the new PM hardly seemed at a loss for words.

"I am aware of risks, but I am ready for the political melee," Singh said. "After one hundred days I have honed my survival instinct." The first three contentious months in parliament have tested Singh's character as he exchanged the technocrat's hat for that of a politician.

In the course of the exchange Dr Singh said he was confident that any rumours about his inability to stand pressure or his imminent resignation were now put to rest once and for all. "It is a misconception that I could be pressured into quitting," Dr Singh said; "it will not materialise . . ."

Responding to questions about Human Resources Minister Arjun Singh's campaign to "detoxify education" of its Hindu fundamentalist bias, Singh said that "certain distortions" in school textbooks "should be changed" adding that he stated that he was opposed to all forms of fundamentalism, be they rightwing or leftwing.

The Prime Minister also spoke at length about international politics and India's relations with Pakistan, China, Nepal and the United States.

Speaking about his upcoming meeting with Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf at the United Nations General Assembly, he said he would pursue the process of normalisation with India's neighbour.

Responding to a question concerning violence in Jammu and Kashmir and the north-east, Singh called on the parties to sit down and negotiate, ruling out however any compromise with those using violence.

The Prime Minister praised the Chinese government for the country's recent economic takeoff and said that "visit[ing] China is one of my priorities."
When questions turned to accusations made by Yashwant Sinha, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) senior leader and former Foreign Affairs Minister, according to which he was a puppet of "Super Prime Minister" Sonia Gandhi and that India now had two centres of power, Singh simply replied that "[i] t was not true" insisting that as president of the Congress party and chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance, Ms Gandhi had every right to "interfere in government".

Observers stressed that the press conference was a lesson in democratic governance for it showed India's media that Prime Minister Singh was intent on going beyond his first one hundred days and was there to stay.

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