The first broad contours of what the second Manmohan Singh government plans to do during its five-year tenure were drawn out in President Pratibha Patil’s address to the joint session of the 15th Lok Sabha on Thursday.
The thrust of her speech: the government would pursue economic reforms while building safety nets for those who do not benefit from high economic growth. It will also try to empower women and maintain communal peace. That fits into the way the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has interpreted the thumping approval it got from voters in the recent general election.
“It is a mandate for inclusive growth, equitable development and a secular and plural India. My government is determined to work harder and better to realize these goals,” the President said.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
So, there were promises to attract more overseas investments, draw a road map for disinvestments, increase infrastructure spending, give teeth to the pensions regulator and help banks lend by increasing their capital.
There was also a lot on strengthening existing schemes for the poor while creating a new food security scheme that will guarantee every poor family 25kg of rice or wheat per month at Rs3 per kg. The cost of such a scheme was naturally not mentioned.
These goals are not bad by themselves. But there will be two subsequent problems: How will a deficit-ridden government fund them, and how will a corrupt and rent-seeking lower bureaucracy implement them?
A lot is expected from the first 100 days, the honeymoon that tends to eventually give way to political squabbles. The President mentioned 24 things the UPA government would do in its first 100 days. Not one has anything to do with economic reform, something those who expect a reforms blitzkrieg would do well to ponder about.
Most reforms that now need to be done require hard legislative work and working with the states, quite unlike the early reforms of 1991-93, when taxes could be cut and licensing abolished with the stroke of the executive pen.
It is also good to see that the government plans to take a close look at governance practices in India and also work on the threat posed by climate change. But there is just not enough on internal security, both the threat posed by Pakistan-based terror groups and home-grown Naxalite violence.
Reading between the lines of the President’s speech, we suspect we shall see more continuity than change in the coming months.
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