President Pratibha Devisingh Patil on Monday became the voice of a government in full election mode, painting the picture of a brighter tomorrow, high on hope and expectation.
In her maiden address to Parliament — authored by the ruling dispensation — the President put the social sector at the centre of the government’s policy focus, promising an inclusive growth that would keep the GDP galloping while not letting prices soar in its wake. She also spelt out steps taken for a smoother ride over infrastructure roadblocks that could slow India down.
“There is an air of optimism among our youth and of expectation among the less privileged sections… Today, more than ever before, the world watches this great hall of democracy with hope and expectation,” the President said.
She went on to lay out a big picture of the policy agenda: from complete legal equality for women to an action plan for climate change.
She also spoke about the India-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement, hoping the deal would become a reality this year — a reference that immediately raised the hackles of the Left.
The address was marred by disruptions by the TRS who raised slogans of “Jai Telangana” and, later, by the Shiv Sena, which protested she had not mentioned suicides by farmers in her speech.
Patil’s address to the joint sitting of Parliament marks the beginning of the Budget session that will see the government trying to consolidate its support base among vulnerable sections like farmers and minorities. Both the Union Budget on Friday and the Railway B udget on Tuesday are widely expected to have an aam aadmi focus.
The President, who spoke from her chair, noted that the government had already exceeded its target of doubling agricultural credit in three years. She said the report of Prof R Radhakrishna, backing a loan-waiver package for farmers, was under consideration.
Later in the day, Prime Minister Manmohan sent out similar signals, hinting to a group of farmers from Punjab that the Budget would bring a smile on their faces.
That the government would leave no stone unturned to keep its constituency intact was clear when Patil went on to speak of a roadmap for minority welfare.
“The proportion of priority sector lending going to the minority communities will be stepped up from the present 9 per cent to 15 per cent,” she said, putting the seal on the tug of war between the ministries of minority welfare and finance over the setting of a target on priority lending to minorities over the next three years.
“My government remains firmly committed to ensuring that the economic growth process is socially inclusive, regionally balanced and environmentally sustainable,” she said, before going into the impact that flagship programmes like Bharat Nirman were having in reducing poverty and unemployment, expanding healthcare facilities, and building a foundation for brighter future.
She repeated India’s commitment to friendship with Pakistan. Her assertion comes in the backdrop of the PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari’s promise that his party would take forward the ongoing dialogue with India.