Steering clear of pressing political controversies such as the India-US nuclear deal, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh used his Independence Day address to say that he will continue to boost spending on agriculture, social sector schemes and education, the policy cornerstones of the Congress-led government.
“Over the last three years, we have significantly increased public expenditure in the social sectors,” Singh noted. “This is in line with our commitment to the welfare of the aam aadmi (common citizen). Central government spending on education has been tripled. In health care, agriculture, irrigation and rural development it has more than doubled.”
In line with Mint’s exclusive on Wednesday, Singh also announced a pension plan for the 65-plus citizens living below the poverty line. Besides that, he said a life and disability cover and health insurance for the poor were also on the anvil.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh salutes the national flag after unfurling it on the ramparts of Red Fort as the country celebrates the 60th anniversary of its independence in New Delhi on Wednesday
In addition, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act would also be extended, from the current 330 districts, to cover the entire country.
Even as he promised support to farmers and agriculture, Singh cautioned, “There is no developed country today anywhere in the world that is not an industrial economy. Industrialization is critical for progress. If employment is the best weapon against poverty, then industrialization is the most effective means to create new job opportunities.”
The Prime Minister reiterated the Centre’s pledge to implement a Rs25,000 crore programme to boost agriculture, besides schemes to open more schools, vocational schools and Indian Institutes of Management, Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research.
“We have a long march ahead. We need at least a decade of hard work and of sustained growth to realize our dreams,” Singh said.
Reacted Pushpesh Pant, commentator and professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of International Studies: “I am a Congressman at heart, but I feel this speech was simply not worthy of the occasion. Despite his preoccupations, with the Left parties and otherwise, the Prime Minister should not have devalued such an important anniversary with a speech that sounded like a rehash of the Budget, with mere reiteration of schemes announced earlier, interspersed with extracts from Nehru’s speeches that were evocative in completely different contexts.”
“It was all about large promises on spending, without any underlying strategy,” added Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based think tank.
Pant said the lack of reference to the Indo-US nuclear agreement smacked of “evasiveness of the worst order.” He added, “Even if the PM chose not to refer to the US, and even Pakistan, there should have been something on the momentous changes happening in Nepal, Bangladesh and elsewhere in our neighbourhood. How long can you go on depending on Nehru’s speeches and Gandhi’s exhortation to wipe the tears of the poor?”
“To be fair, the politician is in a no-win situation,” he said. “It was a routine, run-of-the-mill Independence Day address. But then, which 15 August speech in the past few years has been indicative of the government’s direction?”