By Arvind Padmanabhan*
The address to parliament delivered by President Pranab Mukherjee Monday, outlining the policy priorities of the new government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is not only one of the most comprehensive in recent times but also reflects the vast task that lies ahead in implementing the promises made to India’s 1.2 billion people – and others watching the world’s third largest economy – that good times are indeed on the horizon.
Not a constituency has been left out — women, youth, children, minorities, differently-abled, socially deprived, bureaucracy, judiciary, e-governance, economy, price rise, healthcare, education, housing, industry, taxation, defence, social sectors, skill development, disaster mitigation, tourism, north-east region, energy, infrastructure and even terrorism, foreign policy, diaspora and effective use of social media — suggesting every ministry and department had been consulted and the views incorporated in the 4,700-word speech that took precisely 55 minutes to deliver.
The fact that it has been widely appreciated can be gauged by the fact that there were moments, several in fact, where the opposition joined the treasury to give a thumbs-up to a particular proposal or promise, as it was being read out by the president, with thumping of the benches — Congress party president Sonia Gandhi being no exception. It is a different matter that the spokespersons for various opposition parties did not find the address invigorating enough, with some even calling it a compendium of Narendra Modi’s election slogans — remarks that sounded more like forced criticism. Industry was elated. Sensex again ended on a new high.
“The Hon’ble president has laid out an insightful, aspirational vision for the country, bolstered by comprehensive and multi-dimensional measures aimed at reining in inflation, boosting agricultural productivity and kick-starting the investment cycle,” said CII president Ajay Shriram.
It was quite evident that at the broader level the most pressing issues listed in the speech were: Reviving the economy, curbing price rise and lifting the general morale of investors, domestic and overseas, so important to set up projects, create jobs and fuel growth. Not just that. The speech also spelt out, in the rather limited time available for such occasions, how most of these issues will be addressed and resolved, at least with an overview.
Some examples are: The promise of creating 100 new cities with all modern amenities, skilling the work force, raising farm productivity, sanitation and hygiene, comprehensive overhaul of rickety infrastructure, high-speed trains, foreign equity in defence production, interlinking of rivers, all-weather house for every family in 10 years, introduction of a pan-India goods and service tax. The detailing was complete when the president said should monsoon be sub-normal, contingency plans are being prepared.
At the same time, as one has seen in the past, governments have promised the moon, but have little to show when the time comes for stock-taking. What matters ultimately is: How well the promises are implemented and delivered. In some ways, the speech itself recognises that, when it acknowledged that the people’s decisive mandate for the Narendra Modi-led government is to see a vibrant, dynamic and prosperous India. Brimming with hope and expectation, they want quick results.”
An indication of that came in the comments by Kamal Nath, one of the most experienced parliamentarians in the 16th Lok Sabha, who was also chosen its pro-tem speaker: “The president’s speech is an enunciation of the dreams and hopes which we have seen in the market place for the last three months. The next couple of months will determine how much on course the government is making these dreams and hopes into a reality.”
The next reality test will come less than a month from now, when Finance Minister Arun Jaitley comes up with the national budget for the current fiscal. It will set the course for, whether or not, as the president’s speech said, this government is able to say with confidence and pride in 60 months from now that it has done its job.
*Arvind Padmanabhan is executive editor with IANS. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at at [email protected]