It was the welcome dose of realism needed after the pyrotechnics of the high-voltage campaign and the scorching pace set by the Narendra Modi government in its initial days.
President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to Parliament outlined in dispassionate terms the enormous task that lies ahead for the government, which has come to power generating very high expectations.
The issue that got the biggest cheers was the issue of the return of the Kashmiri Pandits to their home. While this is an emotional subject, it remains to be seen how this can be done given the fact that there are heightened passions in the Valley over the issue of the repeal of Article 370, which the BJP government has raised.
The Congress’ criticism that the speech was all rhetoric and did not outline an action plan is uncalled for. The President is not meant to unveil a roadmap, he is meant to raise the issues that the government has to tackle.
The trickiest perhaps, given the dictum, ‘minimum government and maximum governance’ is the issue of food inflation. This will require a considerable amount of government to begin with, given state monopoly on prices and state control of buffer stocks.
Given that the monsoon is not likely to be up to par, as indicated in the speech, food inflation is something on which the government has to act very quickly. The idea of pucca homes with sanitation, if executed as per the promises made by the BJP during the campaign, would do more to improve quality of life for the vast majority of Indians than any other measure.
It will also have a huge spin-off effect on health. The idea of reaping the demographic dividend by empowering the youth with skills is again something that brooks no delay if the moment is not to pass India by.
The emphasis on a national maritime authority is absolutely spot-on, given that the earlier government spoke at great length about securing our coastline, especially after the 26/11 attacks but did precious little about it.
The underlying theme of building Brand India is unexceptionable but unless there is a major boost to infrastructure, this will remain an empty slogan. The idea of bullet trains, a diamond quadrilateral and the creation of 100 new cities may sound a little Utopian at present, but then nothing can be achieved without thinking big, given how far India has fallen behind on these.
Rationalising a non-adversarial tax regime will feature high on the agenda of the new government as also tackling and recovering black money. This is easier said than done and it will be interesting to see what mechanism is employed to do this.
In all, the President covered all the angles. Now the task of operationalising this begins and this will be the true litmus test for the new government.