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Manmohan promises ’New Deal’ for rural India

Thursday 24 June 2004

By Our New Delhi Bureau

NEW DELHI, JUNE 24. Addressing the nation for the first time since being sworn in a month ago as Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh tonight reiterated the commitment made in the Common Minimum Programme to give a "New Deal" to rural India. Acknowledging that "farmers in many parts of the country have faced distress and there has been no helping hand," he claimed that his Government "is already addressing this issue directly by pursuing policies that improve the farmer’s access to affordable credit."

In his 20-minute televised speech, the Prime Minister articulated the governing philosophy and the administrative priorities of the United Progressive Alliance regime. Rather than spell out the item-wise policies, Dr. Singh promised a caring and sensitive dispensation, a government that is committed to "equity and social justice" at home and to the pursuit of "supreme national interests" through "an independent foreign policy."

Claiming that the electorate’s "verdict is clear," Dr. Singh assured the nation that he and his Government had understood the meaning of that verdict. According to him the verdict was for "a change in the manner in which this country is run, a change in national priorities and a change in the processes and focus of governance." Dr. Singh said his Government had been given "a mandate which enjoins us to be sensitive to the concerns of those deprived sections and regions." He sought the citizens’ support "to restore to our public life a greater sense of purpose and a renewed commitment to decency, morality and the hard work needed to take our country and every one of our citizens forward."

No political overtones

For the first major statement by the new Prime Minister, the address was completely free of political overtones or partisan rancour. The closest Dr. Singh came to being partisan was when he took note of the Opposition’s disruption of Parliament early this month; even here, he did not apportion any blame but merely noted that Parliament could not debate the President’s Address. He requested all parties "to respect Parliament as an essential forum for public debate so that we can move forward on the task of nation-building which is a common goal for one and all."

However, there was no criticism of the previous Government, neither praise for the Congress nor any expression of gratitude to the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi. The word "secular" or "secularism" did not figure, though there was an acknowledgement that the "minorities suffer from not only economic insecurity but also a sense of marginalisation from political and governing processes."

Dr. Singh’s first public address was marked by an equanimous tone, thoughtful content, competent articulation and a tightly-written prose avoiding rhetorical flourishes, reflecting the Prime Minister’s own personality. Flanked by the National Flag, with a Mahatma Gandhi bust in the background, he read out his speech in Hindi and then in English.

The over-riding theme is that while the economic reforms would continue, the "growth is not an end in itself. It is a means to generate employment, banish poverty, hunger and homelessness and improve the standard of living of the mass of our people." He said that economic reforms did not stop at "freeing private enterprise from the shackles of bureaucratic control, it is also about making the Government more effective, efficient and people-friendly."

Stressing the need for "social and political stability, communal harmony and respect for the rule of law," Dr. Singh promised: "We cannot forsake the obligation of running a Government that works, and works for the people."

Reform the instrument

Dr. Singh mentioned abiding problems such as water, health, the need to step up public spending on education, education of the girl child and world-class and cost-effective infrastructure. But he said that no development agenda could be carried out "if we do not reform the instrument in our hand with which we have to work, namely the government and public institutions. Clearly, this will be my main concern and challenge in the days to come."

On the crucial issue of internal security and terrorism, the Prime Minister undertook "to combat it [terrorism] with all the resources at our command. There shall be no doubt whatsoever about our resolve to deal with this insidious threat to our nation."

In the same vein, he said, "The government will continue the process of dialogue with the Hurriyat and all other groups in Jammu and Kashmir." He also acknowledged the needs of the armed forces and said that "we will not be found wanting in providing for our armed forces, or in caring for our ex-servicemen."

In the external sphere, Dr. Singh promised to carry forward the "tradition of an independent foreign policy, built on a national consensus and based on our supreme national interests." Expressing a desire to live in peace with Pakistan and avowing a sincere dialogue on all issues including Jammu and Kashmir, Dr. Singh put the onus on Pakistan for ensuring the requisite atmosphere. He noted that "it is self-evident that terrorism and violence would cast a dark shadow over this process."

With China, he promised to continue boundary talks "from the political perspective of our bilateral relations". He acknowledged, "strengthened relationship with USA" while also taking note of "the strength and vibrancy of our partnership with Russia [which] has withstood the flux of the post-Cold War world."

The Prime Minister ended on a personal note. He invoked his own innings in public life to invite the citizens to get involved in "our public life so that governments at all levels - Central, State and local - are all constantly put on notice and not just tested once in five years."

See online : The Hindu

P.S.

in The Hindu, Wednesday, June 24, 2004.

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