It is an understatement to say that hopes are running high in India at this moment. Many hope that a Manmohan Singh freed of the shackles of the Left will unleash the next generation of economic reforms that the country has long waited for.
Such is the nature of expectations in political and financial markets: They lurch from myopic optimism to dark pessimism.
A lot will now depend on what Singh does in the next 100 days, both in terms of the composition of his cabinet and the policies introduced.
Much attention will rightly be focused on the hot-button issues—national security, economic reforms and protecting Indian interests in global trade or climate change negotiations—and, thus, on who gets key ministries such as defence, home, finance, commerce and foreign affairs on Friday, when the cabinet will be announced.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
But if this government is truly to give a fresh start to the nation, then it is extremely important that leaders with political vision and administrative skill lead some other ministries that will help build the India of the future.
First, there are the ministries of railways, roads and power that need to do a lot of work to improve the country’s pathetic infrastructure. The main task in each is to increase the supply of these key public goods. There are already working models that need to be used more intensively in all three areas: the financial turnaround of the railways, the stop and go progress of the national highways programme and new laws for the power sector.
Second, no country can emerge as an economic power in this century unless it has quality human capital. The human resource development ministry has unfortunately been a resting ground for aged ideologues in both the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and the first Manmohan Singh government. What we need right now is a person who will direct public investment in basic education and also free higher education of the licence raj. That, and not rewriting textbooks and calculating caste quotas, is the task that will matter in the long run.
Third, India will have to improve its “state capacity” to deliver services to its citizens. That will mean administrative reforms, streamlining anti-poverty schemes, rejuvenating the police, and much more. No one ministry can address these undervalued tasks. We suggest the prime minister take them on as one of his main targets in the new government.
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