The ‘people’ have once again been firmly put in the spotlight as the UPA’s ambitious roadmap was outlined in President Pratibha Patil’s speech to the 15th Lok Sabha on Thursday. The message is clear, the aam admi has got us in and we won’t let them down. This will set a precedent — that those on whose votes the government comes to power are not forgotten once the coveted loaves and fishes of office are distributed. And this makes good political sense as well. The UPA has understood that when voters press the EVM button, they base their choice, as Ms Patil herself said in an earlier speech, not on the basis on what the government of the day says but what it does. “In a democracy, the government is measured on a simple maxim: aam admi koh kya mila?” she had said.
So, it is not surprising that the UPA’s ambitious agenda has not left much space for the Opposition. In fact, in one fell swoop, it has gobbled up the space that till now was occupied by the Left (the fillip to the social sector is a case in point) and also by the one which till now has been occupied by the economic right (opening up the banking and insurance sector). In a deft move that is sure to earn it political dividends, the UPA has also promised 25 kg rice or wheat a month at Rs 3 a kg for the poor and the women’s reservation bill in 100 days. There’s hardly any constituency that the government has left uncovered.
The challenge is to make sure that these promises do not remain only on paper. There’s no doubt that the government needs to increase public expenditure, but along with that it must plug the leakages that have been the bane of our development programmes.
When he first took over the reins of the Congress, the late Prime minister Rajiv Gandhi spoke of how only 16 paise out of every rupee reached the intended beneficiary. Many felt even that figure was somewhat optimistic. As the UPA begins its second innings, it needs to ensure that the full rupee reaches those in need. Anything less would be to shortchange those who have given this coalition such an overwhelming mandate.