Minister of state for planning and science and technology Ashwini Kumar has emerged as the key voice of the UPA-II government on a variety of issues, including economy and future strategies of the Congress party. In an interview with the Hindustan Times, he spoke on the measures being adopted to tackle problems facing the country. An excerpt:
What do you have to say about the current state of the economy?
We all know that the real challenge today is to steer the economy and the general mood in the country. To an extent, it is true that …we cannot isolate ourselves from global economic cycles. Yet, it is equally true that we have an internal political situation consequent upon fractured polity that has so far disabled us to move forward with the speed at which we wanted to grow. I believe that the time has come for the government to proactively engage with allies and other political parties. Also, we cannot escape the responsibility for reducing the fiscal deficit. The Prime Minister's taking over of finance portfolio has, in itself, lifted the mood of the country and the economic sentiment.
The government has been accused of policy paralysis. What are your views?
Allegations of policy paralysis are vastly in exaggeration. It is true that we have been unable to forge unanimity or a wide consensus on key economic issues, but we have been able to move ahead of key parameters.
The government's recent policies on the telecom sector is said to have driven foreign investors away. Do you agree?
Telecom had the fastest growth in Indian economy, and it has indeed suffered a major blow in terms of investors' confidence. The retrospective taxation and some policies of the government have created a negative perception among future investors, including institutional investors. This has had an effect of shrinking foreign investment in the country, which would have been helpful in developing infrastructure sectors. We need to dispel the view of instability in the policies of the government.
What initiatives have the government taken in the field of science and technology?
The 12th five-year plan proceeds on the assumption that science, technology and innovation and information technology will be at the core of the instrumentality to achieve faster, more inclusive and sustainable growth. The PM, deeply concerned over the need to revitalise the science and technology culture and temper in the country, has assured that there will be no dearth of funds for the sector. He has agreed to provide an initial outlay of Rs. 5,000 crore to develop super-computing, which holds the key to strategic promotion… The US has assured help in fulfilling India's agenda on science and technology.
Is the Congress passing through a difficult time?
We had our ups and downs but our deep-rooted commitment to the sense of nationhood and core values of republic, secularism and inclusion will remain our qualitative distinction, when compared to other political formations. The moral leadership provided by Sonia Gandhi to the nation remains a key pillar of party strength.
What role do you think Rahul Gandhi will play in the coming years?
I believe that Rahul Gandhi's most important contribution has been to re-kindle a sense of idealism in politics. In my opinion, he is destined to and should play a larger role in the affairs of the nation. But, when and how he does so must be his call.