No one will quarrel with any part of the diagnosis made by Manmohan Singh from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day. He is right in pointing out that India is experiencing an unprecedented burst of economic growth, leading to a visible transformation in its physical infrastructure. But he is also right in observing that vast stretches of the country and hundreds of millions of its citizens are being left out from the benefits of the process. While the government has sought to redress this through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the Bharat Nirman project, the country has yet to come up with answers for the deeper agricultural crisis that Mr Singh has spoken of. Clearly, throwing money at the problem or citing old mantras like expanding the area under irrigation is not enough.
There are areas where the UPA could have done more, such as reforming the delivery system of government a.k.a. the bureaucracy. It’s no secret that Mr Singh’s efforts in this direction have been stymied, the latest example being the modifications sought in the Right to Information Act. Bureaucratic foot-dragging is also hampering the government’s efforts to build bridges with Pakistan. Mumbai-type attacks aimed at derailing the peace process were expected. Yet, they have been allowed to slow down the process, if not stop it completely.
It has not helped that the UPA is a coalition. The PM’s call for putting an end to divisiveness and working out a consensus on issues of national importance could well have been addressed to his coalition members, one of which, the DMK, has single-handedly brought all privatisation to a halt. On the other hand, the Left’s desire to run with the opposition hares and hunt with the government hounds has led to a dangerous dissonance that cannot but affect the functioning of the government.