Overall, the UPA government’s performance has been good. Foreign investors are more confident about India, though FDI inflows are yet to touch the level seen in China. I am impressed with the National Health Rural Mission II—specifically, the concept of village health workers under the ASHA policy. Several states, including Arunachal Pradesh, have piloted PPP projects and handed primary health-care centres to reputed NGOs to manage—early results are very encouraging. The UPA has been sincere in its effort to empower Panchayati Raj institutions. It has engaged with the voluntary sector, as an equal partner, in exploring innovative ways of implementing provisions of the 73rd amendment.
The last three years have been fairly peaceful. The government has, more or less, managed to contain any major communal conflagration. There seem to have been sincerity in negotiations with various insurgency groups.
I feel the UPA has done well in foreign policy. The peace process is on with Pakistan, the relationship with Nepal has improved, a fresh pact has been signed with Bhutan, and though there has been no marked improvement in the case of Bangladesh, it has not deteriorated either. One of the major positives has been the approach on the US nuclear deal.
I come from Arunachal Pradesh and am very glad to see the initiatives for the development of the Northeast. The new Northeastern Industrial and Investment Policy is perhaps, as voiced by the corporate sector, one of the best policies in the world for industrial promotion. Northeast’s infrastructure sector has been paid attention, especially in building roads. I see sincere efforts on trade linkages of the Northeast with China and Southeast Asia. The SITWE project, which will give access to Myanmar’s port, is under way. Commerce ministry officials frequently visited remote locations to follow this up.
But, the UPA needs to focus more on agriculture, and address concerns about reservations and SEZs. Prices of essential items need to be contained. The coalition needs to be made stronger so that the government is not seen as a fractured one.
(Nalong Mize is a development professional and communications consultant based)
No headway at home
A country’s prosperity, stability and growth are best judged by the state of affairs in the home department, foreign affairs and the ministries of defence and finance. Manmohan Singh has made result-oriented changes in the policies of these departments, and successfully projected India as a viable global power. One can see diplomatic assertiveness in the nuclear talks, and foreign visits have developed healthy ties with China, Taiwan, Japan, West Asia and the Scandinavian countries. We can see concerted efforts for developing industry and ancillaries for the defence sector and progress on road, bridge and highway projects.
But management of home affairs is wanting. Tribal development projects have yet to show dividend. Farmer suicides in Vidarbha have yet to be controlled. Persistent crop failures have turned the psyche of the farmers into a negative one. The project aimed at connecting rivers is not making headway. The home ministry is struggling with the Naxalite and Maoist problem—evident in these groups asserting their presence in virgin areas. And, the domestic price structure is still unstable and prone to monopolistic tendencies.
(Suresh Martin Chauhan is an economist who turned farmer in Panipat)
Leave cricket to BCCI
Three years of the UPA have assured industry, trade, markets and above all, citizens, of stability, steady growth. There’s momentum in the Indian economy’s march to become truly global. India Inc. is doing well with takeovers, new alliances, and healthy forex reserves are commendable. As an Indian, I take pride in our performance. Well done, Captain Manmohan Singh! I saw in a remote town in Sweden, a tram passing by with Incredible India splashed all over! Well done Renuka Chowdhury (in her tourism portfolio). When one sees the Indian Railways as a case study in business schools abroad and in India, it’s a matter of pride. Thank you, Laluji. Airbus A380 coming to town speaks of the potential of Indian aviation and those behind it. Sukhoi 30 doing a cobra manoeuvre assures us the skies are safe. With two years to go, it’s all hands on deck! Those ministers who have not been able to go past the ‘average’ performance tag need to make amends. Cricket has to be left to BCCI, and the food and agriculture minister needs to focus his energy on the plight of farmers instead. There hardly seems to be any serious attention to climate change. What are the ministries concerned with energy and environment thinking of?
(Rajiv Yadav handles trade logistics in a leading shipping company and is based in New Delhi)
I feel Manmohan Singh is the right man at the right time and the right place. The last three years have been wonderful. Look at the increase in prosperity in the past three years. The stock market index has gone from 5,000 to 14,000. Look at real estate prices, and the supply of white goods and commodities. Agriculture has been doing badly, but that has been the case historically. He’s been doing a lot of things with Sharad Pawar, like doubling the investment in the agriculture sector and increasing the role of the corporate sector in farming. In the corporate sector, things are looking better. Some people complain that we’re growing too fast. A GDP growth rate of 8% is not a sign of overheating.
The government should have gone full blast and used free-market policies to improve infrastructure, by inviting Korean and Japanese companies and utilizing their expertise.
About communal issues, you need a man like Sardar Patel to bulldoze through that. Manmohan Singh is not like that. He’s a soft man and an economist, and it sounds like he’s a clean man. The combination is ideal, too. Sonia Gandhi handles party matters, and Manmohan Singh handles only the PMO, which is economic policy and external affairs.
Even the home department doesn’t really report to him, per se. That is handled by the party. He could thus focus on the issues he wanted to. And having credibility, nobody challenges him. That’s very important.
Having to rule with the Left’s support in a globalized world is tough. But it helps in a way because policies that come to the floor are already filtered. Papers go through the politburo, they debate it, and then approve a policy. So, the administrative time of the House is minimized.
But, given the odds, I’d say he’s done very well.
(Jayraj Salgaokar owns and manages a publishing business based in Mumbai)
Not too strong a leader
Manmohan Singh had raised a lot of hope when he became Prime Minister, given his brilliant stint as finance minister earlier. But, he has not managed to meet the expectations of the common man, maybe due to the diverse demands in the UPA coalition. He is an intelligent, honest, wise and trustworthy person. But he has not emerged as a strong leader.
Inflation has been hovering at around 5.5%. For a housewife, it is a great challenge to manage within the monthly budget. Singh’s administration promised to provide debt relief to poor farmers, but farmer suicides continue. Terrorism has not been handled well. Incidents of violence in Jammu and Kashmir, Northeast, UP and Bihar reflect the inefficiency of the government machinery.
His silence on minority reservations in educational institutions and his government’s apathy towards demonstrators have led to the widespread perception that they do not give importance to this issue.
The picture is not that bleak on some fronts. He has helped simplify the tax systems. Many controls and regulations have been removed to create an environment that helps the Indian companies compete in the global market. The Indian economy has grown rapidly under his regime.
The first three years have shown Manmohan Singh as a strategic planner. But a lot needs to be done for the implementation of his policies.
(Shalini Prakash is a university lecturer in economics based in New Delhi)
The will for a (rail)way
The aam janta continues to fight for the basic necessities of food, water and safety. The stock markets have fared well but the stocks of highly-priced essential items in people’s homes are depleting!
We have seen a steady rise in bomb blasts and other terrorist activities. The UPA needs to grow out of the junior school’s “blame everything on the kid sitting next” syndrome. India is a land of unity in diversity, but the UPA seems to be replacing ‘diversity’ with ‘division’ by compounding reservations in higher education. It should think of more fundamental reforms in basic education and induce students to make excellence their goal.
The biggest achievement is the turnaround of Indian Railways. This proves “where there is a will, there is a (rail)way”. Other ministries should take a clue. Government policies in telecom have helped lower prices in telephony and improve access. The aviation industry has been revolutionized. The average Indian’s dream to fly is now a reality. Being a true Delhiite, I will say the Metro has helped the city’s commuters. But this country of over a billion, with huge inequalities in living standards, needs better governance and sound economic policies that benefit people across the economic and social divide. That seemed to be the NDA government’s bane, for all its “India Shining” campaign. The UPA has two years to prove itself on that front.
(Vikas Verma works in New Delhi for a Dubai-based trading company)