New Delhi: Taking advantage of the swing in momentum in its favour, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is pressing ahead with its foreign policy initiative to resume diplomatic negotiations with Pakistan.
Stating this, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reiterated the UPA’s commitment to improving governance, which he argued would enable the country to achieve double-digit growth, in his reply to a debate on Friday over the motion of thanks for President Pratibha Patil’s address to Parliament on 22 February.
The government’s anti-poverty strategy is presaged on ensuring robust growth. The Budget, presented on 26 February, renewed this ideological commitment of the UPA by leaning in favour of growth and fiscal prudence.
Justifying the resumption of talks with Pakistan, Singh said the government was determined to push the dialogue forward as it would be counterproductive to stay aloof when the rest of the world was willing to talk to Islamabad.
“I have never believed that the channels of communication with Pakistan should break down. The chances of miscalculation can only increase in an environment of no contact,” he said. “The fact of the matter is that the rest of the international community is talking to Pakistan. So, our not talking to them is not going to isolate them.”
Singh, who is known to be keen on continuing talks with Pakistan, clarified that any meaningful dialogue could proceed only if the terror apparatus operating on that country’s soil against India was controlled. The foreign secretaries of both countries met recently after a 13-month hiatus following the 26 November Mumbai terror attacks. Pakistan said earlier this week that it had put forward a road map on how to restore dialogue.
Singh rejected the Opposition’s criticism that India had restarted the talks only under pressure from the US and said the decision had been a “calculated one”.
A day after food price inflation touched 17.87%, Singh said a good winter harvest in combination with fiscal and administrative measures will bring rates down as he mounted a strong defence of his economic management.
The government chose to let prices rise rather than cause widespread unemployment in plotting the economy’s recovery from the slump that was triggered in 2008 by the global financial crisis, he said.
“We could have dealt with the price effect by a very tough monetary and fiscal policy, which would have depressed the demand,” Singh said. “If we had gone that route, there would have been large-scale unemployment and a steep fall in industrial production in our country.”
While India was facing higher prices, several other countries were struggling to deal with a surge in the number of jobless people, he added.
The Prime Minister, who said drought had added to the pressure on the prices of essential commodities, expressed confidence that the country would soon overcome the crisis.
“There should be no panic on the food situation front considering the comfortable level of food stocks that are available with the Union government,” he said. “Rabi prospects are also very encouraging. Post-monsoon rains have been good. All this augurs well for our ability to stabilize food prices at a reasonable level.”
Singh’s UPA government has been struggling to meet the conflicting aims of controlling food inflation and paying farmers good prices for their produce in order to retain its political support in the rural areas.
Both Houses of Parliament have witnessed disruptions and several abrupt adjournments as Opposition and supporting parties have attacked the government over prices.
The Prime Minister said India will end the current fiscal year with a gross domestic product growth of 7.2-7.5%, while reiterating that it would achieve 8% in the next fiscal year (2010-11) and return to 9% in the subsequent year.
Opposition leader Arun Jaitley said in the Upper House that the Prime Minister’s speech was disappointing and lacked any concrete steps that could be translated into action.
Santosh K. Joy contributed to this story.