The Narendra Modi Government on Monday outlined an ambitious agenda for itself promising to translate its “clear mandate” for “hope” into a tangible action plan to bring sweeping change across several sectors.
“In 60 months from now, we should be able to say with confidence and pride that we have done it,” President Pranab Mukherjee said while addressing the first joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament in the Central Hall after the Lok Sabha polls.
The President’s address suggested that the Government was looking forward to the possibility of a second term when he said: “By the time the nation completes 75 years of Independence (2022), every family will have a pucca house with water connection, toilet facilities, 24 X 7 electricity supply and access.”
While the address covered more or less most of the pronouncements Modi has already made at different fora — before and after the election results — it, significantly, endorsed the India-US nuclear deal, skipped references to the UPA’s flagship programmes.
So it avoided mention of the rural employment guarantee and food security schemes and suggested changes in the UPA’s big-banner health and urban development schemes: National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM).
“The international civil nuclear agreements will be operationalised and nuclear power projects for civilian purposes will be developed,” Mukherjee said. This is a marked departure from BJP’s earlier position where it had voted against the UPA on the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement in 2008. The BJP, in fact, had also put a legislative spanner in subsequent legislation on civil nuclear liability law which eventually deterred nuclear power equipment suppliers from participating in setting up of nuclear power plants in India.
The indication by the President to operationalise the Indo-US nuclear agreement appears an attempt by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise to take the “good work” of previous governments, including UPA, forward.
“I congratulate all previous Governments and their leaders. We will take their good work ahead & work harder to fulfil people’s dreams & aspirations,” Modi had said in his post on Twitter on May 20.
The speech suggested the launch of a “National Health Assurance Mission” (NHAM) under a “New Health Policy”. While the speech ignored mention of JNNURM, the President echoed Modi’s campaign promise to take “urbanization as an opportunity” and promised to “build 100 Cities focussed on specialized domains and equipped with world class amenities” signalling departure from JNNURM’s focus on old cities.
Additionally, the speech indicated renewed focus to irrigation promising to launch “Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana” with the motto of “Har Khet Ko Paani” while downplaying the interlinking of rivers, a project envisaged during previous BJP-led NDA regime, as one of the options for the proposed programme.
As for the other components of Bharat Nirman for rural areas, President’s speech has echoed Modi’s concept of “Rurban” to promise investments in roads, power and water sectors for rural India.
The speech, in this context, also highlighted government’s focus towards sanitation and promised to launch “Swachh Bharat Mission” with a time frame to provide universal sanitation facilities by the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi in the year 2019.
Though the UPA had created a National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), the President’s speech signalled a major shift in the form of a mission-mode approach towards launching “National Multi-skill Mission” with an additional promise to come out with a “National Sports Talent Search System” for the youth.
While expressing commitment to make “all minorities equal partners in India’s progress”, the speech indicated junking the Communal Violence Bill envisaged by the UPA and instead promised a “national plan” to “curb incidents of communal violence” in consultation with state governments.
Incidentally, several state governments had voiced objections to the UPA’s proposed Communal Violence Bill citing it as a violation of the federal structure of the Constitution.
During the speech, the seating arrangement in the House suggested an effort to take the Opposition along. Former Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and H D Deve Gowda and Congress president Sonia Gandhi were seated in the front row. Senior BJP leader L K Advani, who sat next to Sonia, was seen chatting with her.
Leaders of Congress in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad sat next to each other in the second row. Prime Minister Modi greeted Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi by warmly holding his hand. The hall was brimming to capacity. Many members like Chandan Mitra, Babul Supriyo, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and Manoj Tewari, all of the BJP, could not find seats, while Renuka Chowdhury of the Congress, who came well after the President had started speaking, headed straight for the front row and occupied a seat in the front row, meant for a Cabinet minister.
Sonia also thumped the desk twice, first when the President talked of zero tolerance to violence against women and the Government’s promise to provide 33 per cent reservation to them in Parliament, and a second time when he said the Pravasi Diwas next year would mark the centenary of Mahatma Gandhi’s return from South Africa.
The members responded with the loudest response when Mukherjee articulated the Ghovernment’s commitment to clean the Ganga and ensure the return of Kashmiri Pundits “to the land of their ancestors.”
He said the Government will put the economy “back on track”, “rein in inflation, reignite the investment cycle, accelerate job creation and restore the confidence of the domestic as well as international community in our economy.” The Government will set up world class investment and industrial regions and chalk out an infrastructure development programme, including a project for launching high-speed trains. “Our long coastline will be the gateway for India’s prosperity,” he added.
The President said a National Madrassa Modernisation Programme will be initiated to provide modern and technical education to the minorities. For scheduled castes, tribes, other backward and weaker sections, the Government will strive to create an enabling eco-system of equal opportunity in education, health and livelihood.