With general elections due in five months and smarting from exit poll predictions of a disaster for the Congress in four of the five states that went to polls recently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday defended his government on broadly five counts where the UPA has been hit hard.
Delivering the inaugural address at the HT Leadership Summit, he identified the Lokpal stir, a faltering economy, charges of populism over social safety programmes, terror attacks and absence of a well-directed foreign policy as the demons his party was still fighting.
"I urge you to look at the big picture," Singh said, reading from a prepared text that was aimed at the critics of his government.
Addressing the effort of a few “well-meaning individuals to spread cynicism”, an obvious reference to Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and their Lokpal agitation, Singh pointed out democratic elections triumphed over the agitation at Delhi’s Ramlila grounds.
As for the embattled Indian economy, Singh pointed out “it is on a rising growth trajectory”. He said the decades of 0% to 3.5% growth his generation had witnessed were now a thing of the past.
For those still questioning the economy’s robustness, Singh had this to say: “In the past two decades, the rate of growth more than doubled to an annual average of 7%.” Naturally, he argued, “There will periodic ups and downs.”
Singh added, “The new aspirations of an entirely new generation of Indians has contributed to growing impatience for faster growth and even better quality of life.”
He had a different, perhaps more nuanced take, on his government’s “populist” measures that attract considerable criticism. The years of growth, he said, also saw growing disparities between the haves and the have-nots. But the UPA’s social agenda “strategy of inclusive growth helped blunt the edge of disparities”.
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Singh’s tenure has also been frequently criticised for being “soft on terror” and the failure to effectively combat terrorism. But Singh’s “big picture take away” was that while a terrorist needs to succeed only once, security agencies have to succeed every time.
“If we only look at the number of terror attacks on India in quantitative terms, we may feel despondent,” he said, but pointed out that the attacks “failed to generate communal tension”. The PM said terrorism “is being defeated in the minds of our people because they are refusing to respond to such attacks in which the ideologues of terror want them to”.
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On foreign policy, he said as Indian entrepreneurs were widening their global footprint, they were “altering the priorities of” India’s foreign policy. He said much of the rising criticism against his government was the result of expectations. “A revolution of rising expectations is underway and I welcome it.”
The PM said, “Governments come and go. We are all birds of passage, actors on different stages... India will continue to rise and in doing so, will help everyone rise... that is the big picture. For the short period, we mortals occupy the places we do, let us strive to do our best for India, for the world, for humanity.”
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