Agenda 2009-14: What UPA must achieve
The definitive poll verdict brings with it enormous responsibilities for the Congress-led UPA government of Dr Manmohan Singh.
Akrita Reyar With a definitive verdict under its belt, the Congress-led UPA will enjoy a relatively free hand in going about the business of governance over the next five years. While the moment of their comfortable and unexpected victory is sweet, it brings with it enormous responsibilities. The nation is poised at a delicate juncture, with economic recession and volatile neighbourhood posing daunting challenges. It would be, therefore, imperative for the new government to draw out a clear cut roadmap to address some of the most pressing matters. Security This is the very first and foremost on the priority of things. Nothing is more important to the people of India than their safety. This is a basic and absolutely vital requirement. The UPA needs to be grateful to the people of India who chose to vote for them despite 26/11, the deadliest terror siege that had followed a spate of other attacks in major cities like Delhi, Jaipur, Bangalore etc. This simply could be because the people didn’t have much of a choice. At the tail end of their previous tenure, the government had sense at last to replace Shivraj Patil with P Chidambaram as the Home Minister, thus restoring a semblance of confidence in the people. A tougher terror law was brought in, and the National Investigative Agency was set up as the nodal body to coordinate intelligence. These were some pro-active steps in the right direction, but a lot remains to be accomplished. Police reforms, better intelligence gathering (increasing foot soldiers for the same is imperative), identifying and destroying sleeper cells, superior surveillance of the borders and coastlines, better equipment for commandos and security forces etc are among the long list of things that would have to be worked upon with alacrity. Another serious security challenge arises from within. The government needs to scratch its head for some good ideas to get rid of the ‘Red Menace’. Naxals are a major threat, as demonstrated during Lok Sabha elections, especially in the first phase when they left behind a bloody trail. Economic Revival These are tough financial times with most of the world in recession mode. China and India are the only countries which continue to register respectable growth figures. But there is no room for complacency as attracting investment is going to get only harder. The government has also presented itself a gaping fiscal deficit, for which it has only itself to blame. One way out of this could be disinvestment in some PSUs. This had been difficult till the time the UPA had compulsions of the Left support. But it is shackled by no such constraints now. Moreover, additional funds gained by lowering holdings would help bring down interests on government borrowings, thus eventually lowering rates for the common man to borrow. Additional liquidity in the system may help spurt spending. The Sensex had a record Bull Run on the first day of trading after the results in a show of confidence in this government and expected stability emerging from it; but the sentiment needs to be sustained and converted into a complete recovery of the market. Apparently, a blueprint for the economy is ready, if Jyotiraditya Scindia is to be believed. He told a television channel that the PM had already a plan in place which would replicate the China model in setting up human resource intensive industries, thus creating lakhs of jobs. This sounds a like fantastic idea, but a lot will depend on implementation. Moreover, the government needs to carry out the reforms process and push liberalization in the pension, banking and insurance sectors. This was something it was meaning to do in its first tenure but had its hands tied by the Left. The economic brains in the Finance Ministry would also have to ensure that the country doesn’t move into a deflationary mode but with rising prices. Infrastructure, Development & Welfare Projects One of India’s greatest handicaps is our abysmally inadequate infrastructure, without which economic growth opportunities can never be fully exploited. Additionally, foreign direct investors weigh this as a major factor before they choose to sink funds in a country. The government was found wanting in the Golden Quadrilateral project, which has not seen much progress since the NDA regime. A lot of money has been assigned for ports’ development etc as well as to create world class facilities in Mumbai, but most of these plans have been slow in taking off. NREGA and waiver of farm loans are the two biggest schemes the government undertook in its first stint. These can also be partially attributed for the wave in favour of the Congress. But the administration has fallen woefully short when it comes to 100% realization of these ventures. If truly effected in complete measure, these could be the real winners for both the poor of the country, as well as for the Congress in terms of goodwill that it will earn. For this to become a reality, the government would need to ensure a more robust trickle down effect. Huge monies have been allocated for these projects; proper disbursement is therefore a must. Better coordination with state governments, especially ruled by the opposition parties would be crucial for achieving the set goals. The PM has already shown signs that he means business. Not only has he set an agenda for the first 100 days, he has also asked ministries to come up with similar drafts. The PM has also signalled that he would do a quarterly review of progress made by all ministries so as to achieve the targets in a set timeframe. Health and education need to be given priority and substantial allocations should be made for these to give generation next the cutting edge. The bill to make free education a right needs to be passed. Tackling Neighbourhood & Foreign Affairs India is unfortunately geographically placed in a manner that it is encircled by a slew of unstable countries. The PM had put relations with Pakistan on the back burner and concentrated on home turf in his first stint. With the Pakistani Army engaged in a war with the Taliban in the country’s northwest, and ISI’s role being dubious in this all, the Prime Minister may have little choice but to pay greater attention to Islamic militants being too close for comfort to the Indian borders. Sri Lanka will be the other attention grabber. With Tamil Tigers’ chief V Prabhakaran dead and LTTE vanquished, the Indian government will be under pressure from both UPA ally DMK and from our Tamil population to take up the cause of Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka. The National Security Advisor and Foreign Secretary have already been despatched to the island nation to get a first hand view of things. An economic package is also being worked out for the rehabilitation of Tamils in Lanka. This would assuage sentiment back home as well as counter the growing influence of China in that nation. China would also have to be effectively curbed in Nepal, where the previous Maoist government had shown a decided slant in favour of the Dragon nation. With the Lhasa road line stretching right upto the Nepal border, this certainly is bad news for us. A new regime is set to take over in Nepal, but days of uncertainty are far from over. Bangladesh though shows a ray of hope, if Sheikh Hasina can provide a stable government there. She is understood to be close to New Delhi and understands our concerns, especially related with terror camps located inside our neighbour’s territory. Besides, India would have to leverage an eminent role for itself given its growing economic clout. Relations with the US should be taken to the next level without compromising on fundamentals like the NPT. The Mid-East and the Muslim world would have to be kept on the right side, and relations with Iran need to be handled delicately. All in all, Dr Manmohan Singh would have his hands full. And with better manoeuvring space in his second stint, the PM would have no choice but to deliver.