Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered an olive branch to the Left parties on Friday saying that he always had "great regard for the Left leaders". The Left had parted ways with the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre last year in protest against the Indo-US civil nuclear deal.
Asked whether the Congress was open to seeking Left support to form the government after the Lok Sabha elections, Singh said: "For four-and-a-half years, the Left parties were very happy with our government. It was only in the last phase that they left us on one single issue. I myself have high regard for the leaders of the Left parties."
In an hour-long interaction with members of the Indian Women Press Corps, Singh repeatedly attacked the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and its prime ministerial candidate, LK Advani.
He said Advani lacked the "economic sense" needed to tackle the challenge of saving India from the global recession. According to him, Advani's recent claim that crores of Indian rupees remained stashed in tax heavens abroad "betrayed the BJP's bankruptcy of ideas".
Singh defended the food subsidies offered by the Congress and BJP in their manifestos. "If this is the way food reaches them (the poor), we should not grudge subsidies."
On the emergence of the Third Front, Singh said neither the Left parties nor the Third Front could form the government, but their presence in the Lok Sabha contests would erode the BJP 's "secular votes".
Speaking about his tenure, Singh said he had decided to resign when the Indo-US nuclear deal seemed to be getting derailed for lack of support in Parliament. "I had made my intentions clear to everyone. For me, India's prestige was at stake. We had spent three years negotiating that important deal with the United States and if we were to backtrack it would give a poor impression about the system of governance in our country to the entire world."
The prime minister said he was not contesting for the Lok Sabha --a point often raised by Advani against him--in view of his recent heart surgery. "This is the only consideration, as I still need to regain full health."
About the BJP's charge that he is a "weak" prime minister, Singh said: "Yes, I cannot match Advani in public speaking or his way of asserting over issues. But a prime minister should be judged by his work and not by his rhetoric alone."
On foreign affairs, the prime ministerial said his government had not taken a final view of the US proposal that India, along with Russia and Iran, should form a regional group to tackle the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He debunked theories that Barack Obama's presidency would hurt India's interests. "Barack Obama is very keen to promote relations with India," he maintained.
Talking of his 45-minute meeting with Obama in London during the recent G20 summit, Singh said the US president wished to visit India along with his family.