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Sweet-talking the nation

Arun Shourie talks back to the UPA agenda outlined in the president’s address. Excerpts:

Of course,I would have liked the election results to have been the other way round. But,of the remaining alternatives,what the electorate has handed down is the best one. This government will have none of the alibis it relied on last time — the Communists,the allies. Here are some of the challenges the country faces:

Foreign policy

We are today in the same position vis-à-vis Pakistan as we have been for the last five years. In addition,we have become precariously dependent on the United States for dealing with Pakistan as well as China.

First,the steps which were not just implicit,but explicit in the nuclear deal will now commence. In the coming months the country will be under pressure to sign on a slew of follow-up agreements which will freeze the power imbalances of today

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Second,we will be under pressure to resume the so-called peace process with Pakistan,without insisting on the condition that we have hitherto advanced—,that we shall not resume the peace talks with Pakistan till it takes effective action against those who were behind the Mumbai attack,and till it demonstrably dismantles terrorist infrastructure.

Given that the US (and every other country) always acts in its own interests,we must develop close relations with a series of countries,including the US.

Defence

We face a dire situation in regard to internal security as well as fortifying ourselves against external aggression. Acquisitions as well as the development of new weapons systems have certainly fallen behind.

Second,civil-military relations are at an all-new low,because of the Sixth Pay Commission’s recommendations. The relationship between civil servants in the defence ministry and the armed forces must also be re-assessed,allowing the army greater participation.

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Thirdly,like the US and UK,we must ban communication systems from potentially hostile countries — in particular,China,which is known to plant backdoors and triggers in such hardware and software. Much more needs to be done than what paragraph 12 of the president’s address indicates.

Economy and reforms:

Despite the UPA’s ‘dream team’,reforms were halted during the last government. While the Left was an easy target,the government was not prepared to stake anything,and was also in denial as the global financial crisis began to reach our shores. Now the government must expedite its intended measures,not incrementally but as an avalanche. More than anything,it needs to implement its schemes. The address repackages old promises as though they were novel.

I have two notes of caution to the specific reforms suggested: The disinvestment proposal — that up to 51 per cent shares in governmental enterprises will be sold,while government control over the enterprises will be maintained – is the worst alternative possible. I hope Pranab Mukherjee will steer the government’s finances back to prudence,and that we will get back to the discipline of the FRBM.

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Also,I must warn against attempts to justify everything in the name of ‘inclusiveness’. “My government will continue to accord the highest priority to the welfare of minorities,” the address says. Why not to the security of the country? Why not to the families of those who have laid down their lives in defence of the country? Why not to the poor,whatever their religion?

The PM’s stress last time that there would be ‘zero tolerance of corruption’ has been watered down in the president’s address. This is significant,given that the most debilitating legacy of this government’s first term has been the erosion of norms and the perverse use of institutions.

First published on: 17-06-2009 at 01:38:26 am
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