President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to the joint sitting of Parliament predictably bore the stamp of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision. As the Head of State, Parliamentary tradition invests the President with the privilege of delineating the agenda of the newly elected Council of Ministers. But the speech was a Modi show all the way including many of the catchphrases that Modi used during the campaign trail.
From the three Ds — democracy, demography and demand, to the five Ts — tradition, talent, tourism, trade and technology, and the three S of “skill, scale and speed” that Modi espoused this week on transforming India into a global manufacturing hub, Mukherjee appeared to be reading out a Modi campaign speech. Even while focussing on job creation, skill development and quick-decision making, the new government clarified that the legacy challenges of poverty elimination, revitalising agriculture, sanitation, welfare of the SC/STs and the backward classes would occupy the government’s attention. However, in a significant departure, the President’s address was silent on rights-based legislations and subsidies to deal with inequality, signalling a paradigm shift away from the UPA’s developmental approaches.
While including many of the promises made by the BJP manifesto, the President’s speech, interestingly, was silent on the divisive issues in the manifesto like the Ram Mandir, Article 370 and Uniform Civil Code. Instead, the government has committed to making all minorities “equal partners in India’s progress” and strengthen efforts to spread modern and technical education among minority communities and a National Madarsa Modernization Programme. Modi’s electoral slogan promising action against “infiltrators and illegal immigrants” in the North-East and ensuring the return of Kashmiri pandits to the Valley also found mention in the President’s speech. The government has also reiterated the age-old assurance of past governments promising 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and legislative assemblies, a zero-tolerance policy towards gender violence, and strengthening the criminal justice delivery system.
However, political watchers were treated to the curious dichotomy of the new government promising to tackle head-on many of the issues that Mukherjee failed to get a grip on, during his tenure as finance minister between 2009 and 2012. Mukherjee’s failures in fighting food inflation, that has continued unabated since 2010, was pegged as the new government’s ‘topmost’ priority. In addition, the President noted that the government would make the tax-regime “non-adversarial and conducive to investment, enterprise and growth”, clearly a rebuff to his retrospective taxation fiasco that is believed to have hurt the investment climate.
The President’s speech covered a lot of ground; some of which the new government has already got down to work on. Its focus on water conservation, tapping new sources of energy, and building 100 new cities seems aimed at an ambitious goal for 2022, when India completes 75 years of Independence. The President’s promise that every family will have a pucca house with water connection, toilet facilities and 24x7 electricity supply and access by 2022 will be an uphill task considering that only 47 per cent of households have latrine facility and continuous water and power supply is non-existent in most parts of the country. For Modi, the bigger challenge will be to ensure effective coordination between the Centre and states on his developmental and investment goals. Issues like land acquisition and environmental concerns can not be wished way. But with a simple majority in Lok Sabha and none of the leadership tussles that the UPA witnessed, Modi sets out with the odds in his favour.