Indian Prime Minister Indria Gandhi today defended her 10-month-old government against increasing complaints of its inaction and inability to deal with the country's problems and complained that the United States is rebuffing India's efforts to improve relations between the two countries.
Continuing to blame the two preceeding Indian governments for this country's economic woes, she said the administration "is recovering fast from the coma in which it had settled during the Janata and Lok Dal governments. The direction is clear."
Speaking at her first general press conference since she returned to power in January, Gandhi said she was "astonished that people are using words like 'drift' or 'nonperformance' with regard to my government."
Although she claimed no major breakthroughs in solving India's social and economic problems, she credited her Congress-I Party government with increased agricultural and industrial production, a declining rate of inflation and an increase in India's international prestige since she returned to office.
On international issues, Gandhi said that despite India's efforts to maintain friendly relations with the United States, American administrations "are always having a tilt against us."
Referring to the U.S. congressional fight over supplying enriched uranium to India's Tarapur nuclear generating plant, she said, "We're glad that the first installment is coming but we still have to see what happens to the second installment." The Senate upheld President Carter's controversial approval of two delayed fuel shipments for Tarapur last month after lengthy debate over India's refusal to allow international inspections of all its nuclear facilities and to pledge that it would not develop nuclear weapons.
Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie has said, however, that India initially would get only the first shipment of more than 19 tons of fuel, with the second to be reviewed next year in light of India's nuclear intentions. Gandhi's remarks indicated that the issue will remain a running irritant in Indian-American relations.
She also suggested that Pakistani President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq was lying when he denied that Pakistan was manufacturing nuclear weapons.
"President Zia keeps denying it, so shall we take his word for it or not?" she asked. Later she added, "I don't think I like saying that somebody is not telling the truth. I'll leave it like that."
In recent weeks, even supporters of Gandhi have joined her critics in commenting on her government's lethargy in the face of problems such as rapidly rising problems, communal tensons that have exploded into riots in some areas, shortages of essential goods and services such as sugar and electric power, and simmering protests in the northeastern state of Assam that have crippled India's domestic oil production.
Many Indians have been asking whether Gandhi still has the ability or the will to lead her government and party -- a rare concern about a woman long famed for her decisiveness and bold moves.
Many have ascribed what one news magazine called her "crisis of leadership" to the crushing personal loss of her son Sahjay, who was killed in a plane crash in June. Rumors of poor health and predictions by astrologers that she would suffer unspecified diasters have swept the country, forcing her to publicly deny that she is ill or taking drugs.
As if to dispel the image of a sick, dispirited woman, the 62-year-old prime minister swept briskly into the crowded press conference hall and quickly took command in vintage Gandhi style.She joked with the journalists, flashed her famous smile, and deftly fielded answers on a variety of issues.
Responding to criticism about the Cabinet she reshuffled this week she said that "obviously if I thought they were deadwood or not talented, I wouldn't take them."
Critics have pointed to her still partially imcomplete Cabinet and its weak performance as major symptoms of Gandhi's inability to run her government.