New Delhi: Indian Prime Minister-elect Manmohan Singh vowed on Tuesday to revive growth and spread the benefits of economic expansion that swept his coalition back to power with a decisive mandate in a general election.
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Singh, 76, formally elected by MPs of his Congress party as their leader, said his coalition would pursue reforms in agriculture, industry and the wider economy to spread the benefits to the country’s 1.1. billion population.
“There is some slowing down of investment and employment generation. We have to revive growth and make it even more inclusive,” he said in an acceptance speech as MPs thumped desks.
Congress campaigned during the month-long election on a record of spending on the rural poor, including a public jobs programme in the countryside and a costly loan waiver programme for indebted farmers.
Singh said it was important to sustain a high growth rate to make it more inclusive, but that would require new investment and better management of public finances.
Growth in Asia’s third-largest economy is expected to slow to a seven-year low of about 6% this fiscal year from about 7% in 2008-09, and from rates of 9% or more in the previous years. Millions of jobs have already been lost.
Analysts say an expansionary fiscal policy could further stretch public finances and widen the deficit, which is running at about 10% of the gross domestic product.
But Congress leaders say the fiscal deficit is not an immediate concern compared to the pressing need to uplift millions of poor who gave the party its biggest mandate since 1984 in the vote, the world’s biggest democratic exercise.
“The five years in front of us could well be a decisive half-decade. If we can sustain the growth rates of the last five years, we can reduce poverty, create new employment, accelerate rural development and industrialisation and transform the lives of our people,” Singh said.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi presents a bouquet to Prime Minster-elect Manmohan Singh after the CPP meeting at Central Hall of the Parliament House in New Delhi on Tuesday. PTI photo
“We must grasp the nettle firmly and forge ahead.”
Earlier, Congress party head Sonia Gandhi proposed Singh as the parliamentary party leader, setting the stage for his appointment as prime minister.
Singh’s coalition is just 10 seats short of a parliamentary majority, boosting hopes of a stable government.
Indian shares were up more than 2% in late afternoon trade, following Monday’s 17.3% surge on the prospect of a government free of pressures from difficult partners.
A Congress leader said Pranab Mukherjee, who was foreign minister in the previous coalition, was likely to be the finance minister in Singh’s new cabinet.
Asked if the party had finalized Mukherjee as the candidate for the finance post, former trade minister Kamal Nath said “more or less”.
Mukherjee, a veteran politician seen as a steady hand, had been heading the finance ministry since January when Singh, who was also holding the finance portfolio, had heart surgery.
The Congress-led UPA coalition was further strengthened after Mayawati, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief, pledged her support.
“Our 21 MPs will extend outside support to the UPA government,” Mayawati, who is also chief minister of India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh, said in a news conference in Lucknow.
Her party had fought the election against the Congress party.