Two weeks constitute only 1.12% of a five-year mandate and provide bare breathing time in the life of a new government, especially in a country facing multiple crises. The two weeks after the swearing-in to the President’s address outline the contours of the Narendra Modi government’s vision of India and provide sufficient annotation and direction of the shape of things to come.
The Modi victory has raised expectations that are truly frightening. The financing, targeting and delivery of public goods have to be organised within the same structure and system whose mismanagement was the cause of the Congress’ decimation in the polls. The instruments available to the State, it could be also argued at a cynical level, could be characterised as being less than optimally efficient.
Writing in Hindustan Times (Respond to his clarion call, By Invitation, May 22), I urged India to respond to Modi’s clarion call. I wrote then that Modi’s victory is about being bold, sagacious and exuding confidence. While the new government’s priority would naturally be the revitalisation of the economy, Modi symbolises a more inclusive India and that his pledge to make every Indian a part of a glorious and progressive India is a promise. I had gone on to say that the 21st century belongs to India, our foreign policy will be robust, strategic and proactive, not inert and defensive. The first two weeks of the Modi government establish this beyond any doubt. The invitation to heads of State/government of Saarc to the swearing-in ceremony and other initiatives currently in the pipeline show both sense of purpose and proactive functioning.
The key concepts that are beginning to take shape involve a revisioning of India — naveen swapan ek mahan Bharat ka. This will necessarily involve repairing what is degraded and broken — punar nirman, creating anew — shristi karan and reinvention/rebirth — punar jeevan of a nation and its people.
An India that takes everyone forward and leaves no one behind has to be economically prosperous, socially inclusive and cohesive, politically democratic and integrated. No nation can achieve this unless it is at peace with itself and its immediate neighbours.
The targets being set are not unrealistic. On poverty, the target no longer is ‘alleviation’ but ‘eradication’. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) being negotiated in the United Nations reinforce this. Specifically, the proposals call for eradicating extreme poverty by 2030 by bringing the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day to zero.
Interestingly, the SDGs cover most of what is being envisioned in India, assuring universal access to essential quality services such as health, education, energy, water, housing and sanitation. The assertion that, by the time India completes 75 years of its Independence, every family will have a pucca house with water connection, toilet facilities and 24x7 electricity may actually end up setting a new benchmark for the SDGs to emulate.
Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls everywhere is another area where the new government’s pronouncements and commitments will draw applause globally. Thirty-three per cent reservation in Parliament and the legislative assemblies, the proposed mass campaign on the ‘beti bachao, beti padhao’ and zero tolerance for violence against women and the strengthening of the criminal justice system for its effective implementation will hopefully curb the savage bestiality for which India is acquiring a new notoriety.
Programmes of social inclusion and integration, to produce a truly caring society, to which the prime minister has committed his government, will require hard decisions. On that alone will rest the aspirations of 1.25 billion Indians.
The need to revive manufacturing to kickstart the economy, large public spending and an environment where millions of decent jobs are created is well understood. This will have to be done in agriculture, in green manufacturing, in services, the knowledge economy and in technology to keep up with the expectations of young men and women joining the job market.
What is noteworthy is that we are seeking to create a caring society where the poor, weak, vulnerable and marginalised are protected, where all have effective connectivity — roads, rail, air, ICT, new media and the country is knit into one Bharat as never before.
The government will need the cooperation of the private sector and civil society to reform the country’s scientific, innovative and technological temper and spirit. The government alone cannot find key solutions to our major problems in areas like water desalination, purification, harvesting and renewable, clean and efficient energy and food security. The new emphasis on trade, 43% of our GDP, will need to be combined with a fresh look at FDI, technology, and IPR generation.
Good, efficient and corruption-free government has to be transparent and accountable. Access to justice and speedy dispensation of justice has to be part of the new culture that needs to be built around the rule of law.
The prime minister’s call for development to become a national obsession and a mass movement will require comprehensive, focused and sustained follow-up.
The actualisation of this vision will converge with the SDGs by 2030 in the world’s largest, most populous and heterogeneous democracy. The new government will need to combine strategic thinking and direction, commitment to clean and good governance, human rights and public service with solution-oriented policies, measures and a multi-stakeholder approach. A new definition and culture of citizenship will need to be propagated. It has got off to a fantastic start.
Hardeep S Puri, a retired diplomat, is non-resident, senior advisor to the International Peace Institute, New York
The views expressed by the author are personal