I speak to you with a deep sense of humility, fully conscious of the sacred responsibility entrusted to me. You have assigned the task of governance of our country to the United Progressive Alliance and its supporting parties. You have delivered your verdict and the verdict is clear. You have sought a change in the manner in which this country is run, a change in national priorities, and a change in the processes and focus of governance. You have, through your mandate, made it clear that economic growth has to be accompanied by equity and social justice. You have expressed concern for the poor and disadvantaged sections of our society and for minorities and backward regions to be at the heart of all policies of the government.
As I share with you the priorities of our government, I am reminded of the Father of our Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhiji had said that his mission in life was “to wipe every tear from every eye.” Think of the poorest person you have ever seen, Gandhiji would say, “and ask if your next act will be of any use to him.” That message of Bapu resonates in our ears as we settle down to the business of government.
The National Common Minimum Programme has been prepared by us keeping in mind the priorities brought into focus by your mandate. The Address of the President of India to Parliament outlines a comprehensive agenda for the nation to which our government is committed. The country would have benefited if Parliament had been allowed to discuss the President’s Address. I was eagerly looking forward to contributions from all parties in this discussion. Unfortunately, this was not allowed to happen. It should be a matter of deep concern for all of us when established mechanisms for a constructive dialogue and critique, which are vital for a parliamentary democracy, are disrupted and not allowed to operate.
Parliament is a forum which is sacred and it must be our collective endeavour to ensure that we maximize its effectiveness. I request parties across the entire political spectrum to respect Parliament as an essential forum for public debate so that we can move forward on the task of nation building which is a common goal for one and all.
We can justly take pride in the fact that since Independence we have been able, with our efforts, to build the foundations of a modern economy and record an acceleration in the rate of economic growth. There have been impressive gains in terms of the educational and health status of the nation. However, the benefits of this performance have not touched all our citizens in equal measure. Growth is not an end in itself. It is a means to generate employment, banish poverty, hunger and homelessness and improve the standard of living of the mass of our people. It must also be environmentally sustainable.
Equity and efficiency are complimentary, not contradictory, and we must move forward on both these while maintaining a high degree of fiscal and financial discipline, and a robust external economic profile.
To be able to devote our attention and energy to economic development that improves the lives of our people, we must ensure social and political stability, communal harmony and respect for the rule of law. We must put in place policies and programmes which empower all our citizens to lead a life of dignity and self-respect. Our government is committed to the security and welfare of all minorities, the protection of the interests of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, of backward classes and all weaker sections. Equally we are committed to the empowerment of women. We will ensure equal participation of all in the processes of governance.
The essence of the National Common Minimum Programme is the recognition that policies that are aimed at promoting economic growth must also advance the cause of distributive justice and create new employment opportunities. Economic reform is not only about freeing private enterprise from the shackles of bureaucratic control. It is also about making the government more effective, efficient and people friendly so that it can handle better the many tasks that only Governments can perform. And, it is also about ensuring fair and transparent regulation of the market where this is necessary. While many in our country are benefiting from their integration into the market and the global economy, millions of our citizens are still plagued by illiteracy, disease, want, hunger and malnutrition. Gender disparities are high and educational, nutritional and health levels of women are much lower than of men. Chronic poverty afflicts millions who lack income and food security. This is particularly acute among the scheduled castes, other backward castes and scheduled tribes. At a regional level, too, the disparities are high and while some regions of the country seem to be on an accelerating growth path, there is a concern that other regions are not only lagging but are also falling behind. Regretably, minorities suffer from not only economic insecurity but also a sense of marginalization from political and governance processes.
As a nation, we cannot accept such disparities. We have been given a mandate which enjoins us to be sensitive to the concerns of these deprived sections and regions. We have an obligation to ensure that they too benefit from growth in full measure. Our commitment to investments in the social sectors is rooted in this reality. It is the responsibility of government, at all levels, at the Centre, in the States and at the level of the community, to address each of these economic and social challenges. However, I am convinced that the government, at every level, is today not adequately equipped and attuned to deal with this challenge and meet the aspirations of the people. To be able to do so, we require the reform of government and of public institutions. Much of the focus of economic reforms in the past decade has been on reducing the role of the government in controlling the Private Sector; controls that hampered entrepreneurial dynamism and often bred corruption. This was necessary. Yet, there are many areas, critical areas, that directly affect the quality of life of every citizen, where the government has a role, and is expected by every citizen to have a role. These include the provision of social and physical infrastructure for development, the provision of elementary education and public health, providing drinking water and sanitation. They also include economic infrastructure which in our country in large part must be provided by the Government such as irrigation, power, roads and railways. Our people expect the government to be pro-active and sensitive to their needs. In each of these areas, at every level of governance, the reform of government is today an urgent task before us.
We will pursue economic reform and widen the space for individual initiative and enterprise, but even as we do so, we cannot forsake the obligation of running a government that works, and works for the people. The reform of administration and of public institutions to improve efficiency and the quality of delivery services will be our immediate priority.
There has been a neglect of the interests of the farmers in recent years and this is reflected in a significant slowing down in agricultural growth in the past five years. Farmers in many parts of the country have faced distress and there has been no helping hand. The National Common Minimum Programme of the United Progressive Alliance is committed to giving a “New Deal” to rural India. Agriculture must receive the priority attention it deserves. Public and private investment in agriculture has to be greatly increased. A key concern in recent years has been the lack of access to credit. Our government is already addressing this issue directly by pursuing policies that improve the farmer’s access to affordable credit. Agricultural research, training and extension also require much greater attention. I would like to see the emergence of new centers of excellence in agriculture as we have in technology and management. There has to be a sharper focus on expanding opportunities for gainful employment in agriculture and in off-farm rural activities. Food for work programme, efficiently implemented, can greatly assist in achieving this objective.
The Indian farmer has also suffered from too many controls and restrictions. There are still far too many internal barriers to trade that must go. We must also re-examine those aspects of our policies that prevent a creative interaction between farmers and agro- industries. I would like to see the creation of a “Single Market” across the country for both manufactured and agricultural produce with encouragement of agro-industry linkages. With the introduction of value-added taxation this integration of the Indian market will be further enabled.
A striking feature of development in our country has been the rapid increase in urbanization. There are now more than 30 cities with a population of more than one million. The rapid and unplanned growth of these cities has contributed to increased urban pollution, crime and absence of the required infrastructure like access to drinking water, sanitation, roads, footpaths for pedestrians and public spaces, parks and greenery is making life in urban India a living hell for many. Most of the responsibility for this rests with States and Municipal Governments. It will be our effort to give special attention to policies that can encourage urban development and urban renewal. We will actively seek public-private partnership in building urban infrastructure in a planned manner.
Higher rates of economic growth, urbanization and the modernization of agriculture will continue to increase the demand for energy. This demand can only be met with new investment, increased efficiency and rational pricing. Even as we plan to make more efficient use of conventional sources of energy, we must invest in the development of non-conventional sources. We will evolve an Energy Policy package that will cover all sources of energy and will address all aspects like energy security, access and availability, affordability and pricing, efficiency and environment.
Water has emerged as a critical and contentious issue across the country. Even access to safe drinking water remains a problem in many parts of our country. Water management policies have to be so formulated as to address the needs of farmers and weaker sections, especially women, as well as those of city-dwellers. We will have to find innovative, cost-effective and community based solutions. Groundwater replenishment and management and rainwater harvesting require close cooperation between government, panchayati raj institutions and non-governmental organizations. The government will reverse the neglect of public investment in irrigation, addressing the specific problems of each river basin, in an environment and people friendly manner.
We need new thinking in health policy. While the government will continue to help in the growth of private and community based health and medical care, there is a crying need for the reform of public health and public hospitals. We will make public hospitals more efficient and accessible, through public-private partnership aimed at offering affordable and humane health care. We need community based and public health oriented solutions to tackling communicable diseases, epidemics, especially HIV/AIDS, and disability management and population stabilisation.
People are a nation’s greatest resource. Our greatest asset will be an educated and capable work force. Our government will work along with State governments to step up public spending on education, to universalize access to elementary education and to improve the quality of our education. We shall make effective use of mid-day meals programme for school children to achieve this objective. I am particularly concerned about the access to schooling and higher education of children belonging to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, weaker sections and minorities.
The education of the girl child and female literacy will be priority areas for us. We will do our utmost to provide scholarships to help them acquire the training and skills that can make them self-reliant and proud citizens. Our children need modern and relevant education aimed at making them concerned, capable and caring citizens of the Republic.
Our economy has been rapidly integrating with the global economy over the past decade, with a growing sense of self-confidence. However, domestic enterprise needs world class and cost-effective infrastructure. Better roads, better connectivity, modern airports and railways, efficient ports and affordable and reliable power are all the basic requirements for a competitive economy. For centuries India has been a trading nation, actively engaged in the movement of goods and people across continents and high seas. We will pursue policies that enable our economy to be better integrated with the world economy without hurting the interests of our people. We will create an environment conducive to the utilization of the talent pool of the vast and diverse Indian diaspora. We greatly value their participation in the development of our nation.
No objective in this development agenda can be met if we do not reform the instrument in our hand with which we have to work, namely the government and public institutions. Clearly, this will be my main concern and challenge in the days to come.
We will maintain our tradition of an independent foreign policy, built on a national consensus and based on our supreme national interests. We will expand our network of international relationships – preserving solidarity with traditional allies and strengthening new partnerships. We will work with like-minded nations for an equitable, multi-polar world order, which takes into account the legitimate aspirations of developing countries.
We desire to live in a neighbourhood of peace and prosperity. We will actively pursue the composite dialogue with Pakistan. We are sincere about discussing and resolving all issues, including Jammu & Kashmir. We recognize that resolution of major issues requires national consensus and accommodation of public sentiment in both countries. It is self-evident that terrorism and violence would cast a dark shadow over this process. With our other South Asian neighbours, it will be our sincere effort to jointly realize the vast potential for cooperation, and to ensure mutual security, stability and development.
In our relations with China, we are encouraged by positive developments, which we are committed to strengthening. Bilateral economic cooperation has shown remarkable growth and diversification. We shall carry forward the process of discussion to resolve the boundary question from the political perspective of our bilateral relations.
As two of the world’s great democracies, our strengthened relationship with USA is a fact of considerable importance. The transformation of our relations with USA has been supported by the expansion of economic links and people to people ties, including the presence of almost a million people of Indian origin in that country. We will welcome the expansion of cooperation between the two Governments to include new and mutually beneficial areas, particularly high technology.
The strength and vibrancy of our partnership with Russia has withstood the flux of the post-Cold War world. We will accelerate the diversification of our relationship, particularly in defence, high technology, space and nuclear energy, while intensifying economic cooperation.
We have traditionally strong relations with the countries of Southeast and West Asia, based on cultural affinities, economic interaction and a vibrant Indian expatriate community. We aim to build upon these. While speaking of West Asia, I must share our deep concern about developments in Iraq and the suffering of the people of that country. It is our earnest hope that democracy would be restored and full sovereignty transferred to a truly representative Government of Iraq. India is committed to participate in all endeavours aimed at bringing stability and to ensure the well-being of the Iraqi people.
We will also strengthen our bilateral relations with developing countries of Latin America and Africa. Similarly, strong ties with the nations of Central Asia are of importance for our international trade, as well as for our strategic and energy security.
We will actively pursue a cooperative relationship with the European Union to expand the political and economic frontiers of collaboration. We welcome the inclusion of many new member states, with whom we have a long tradition of cooperation.
I wish to place on record the nation’s deep sense of gratitude and pride in the gallantry, valour, professionalism and the spirit of self-sacrifice of our armed forces. I assure the nation that we will not be found wanting in providing for our armed forces, or in caring for our ex-servicemen. We will streamline defence acquisition procedures, so that our forces obtain modern weapon systems and technologies. Our government will ensure that the necessary funds are made available for these purposes.
We will maintain a credible minimum nuclear deterrent, along with a policy of ‘no first use’ in our nuclear doctrine. India is a responsible nuclear power, and we will continue to work to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. At the same time, we remain committed to the goal of universal nuclear disarmament.
Internal security remains an important challenge. Terrorism poses a grave threat to the unity and progress of our nation. We shall combat it with all the resources at our command. There shall be no doubt whatsoever about our resolve to deal with this insidious threat to our nation.
The government will continue the process of dialogue with the Hurriyat and all other groups in Jammu and Kashmir. The Government is willing to talk with all disaffected groups provided they shun the path of violence.
We will adopt a comprehensive approach to the problem of national security, to create greater synergy between our intelligence agencies, closer coordination between internal security structures, more efficient civil-military interface and more effective harnessing of technology to national security management.
My fellow citizens, I share the feeling of well-meaning citizens when they express pained concern about the decline of morals and ethics in public life. There is, however, no better way to deal with this incipient threat to our democracy than to meet it head on by joining public life ourselves.
When I chose to enter public life I did so because I was convinced that our democracy needs more professionals to become more engaged and active in politics.
I, therefore, now appeal to each one of you to also participate in our public life so that governments at all levels – central, state and local – are all constantly put on notice and not just tested once in five years.
When I travel across the country I am always heartened by the increasing number of young and idealistic people I meet who work with voluntary organizations, empowering the dispossessed and the dis-enfranchised. We shall make effective use of the resources of the civil society to improve the quality of governance and delivery of important public services.
Fellow citizens, I urge you to come forward and take an active role in the nation’s public affairs. Each one of you can make a difference. I seek your support to restore to our public life a greater sense of purpose and a renewed commitment to decency, morality and the hard work needed to take our country and every one of our citizens forward. We must re-capture the spirit of idealism and self-sacrifice which characterized the high noon of our freedom struggle. Working together, we shall ensure that this ancient sacred land of ours regains its rightful place in the comity of nations.