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Sunday, June 06, 2004


The New Indian Government's Agenda - The Common Minimum Program

The newly-elected Congress-alliance, formally known as the United Progressive Alliance, has prepared a Common Minimum Program (CMP). This document provides a high-level view of the coalition's legislative ambitions and gives us some idea of the mindset of this new government.

The CMP covers all major policy-areas. In order for us to have a more meaningful debate on these issues we have decided to take these issues one at a time. Some postings may lump more than one together but the general idea is for us to have time to absorb and understand what the new government is trying to achieve. At the completion of this cycle of posts we will compile our postings and your comments.

We begin our analysis with the "six basic principles for governance" as outlined in the CMP. We have enumerated them for simplicity of analysis. To repeat them they are:

A. To preserve, protect and promote social harmony and to enforce the law without fear or favour to deal with all obscurantist and fundamentalist elements who seek to disturb social amity and peace.

YI Comment: Heartening to see this as the first principle of the CMP. Over the last decade divisive politics has come to dominate the political discourse in India. The rise of Hindu "fundamentalism", deepening caste fissures and other sectarian tensions held India back. After the horrendous events in Gujarat, the train carnage followed by the inexcusable slaughter of innocent civilians, India indeed needed a government that would reaffirm its faith in secularism. Yet pronouncements alone will not do and the government will HAVE to address the root causes of hate. It will have to ensure that laws are enforced. At the same time it HAS to work with citizen's groups that are engaged in preventing the distortion of India's composite culture. The assault of imposed homogeneity MUST be withstood. This government will be closely scrutinized for its efforts in that regard when the history our times is written.

B. To ensure that the economy grows at least 7-8% per year in a sustained manner over a decade and more and in a manner that generates employment so that each family is assured of a safe and viable livelihood.

YI Comment: This principle, in my opinion, just sums the greatest challenge that democracy faces today. That is the challenge of managing social needs with economic goals as dictated by a rapidly globalizing world. India is doing well in managing the latter challenge but as the outgoing BJP-govt can tell you neglecting the former can exact a very high political price. Many theories have been floated in defense and opposition of economic liberalization and free trade. Often these debates have focused on numbers that rarely take into account socio-political factors. In most developing countries that have pursued such policies in the latter part of the 20th century and are still finding their way government's have done a pathetic job of educating and informing their citizens. The citizenry have been caught off guard with transition pains, whose duration is still being debated. They cannot but help feel like sacrificial lambs. The sad part is that the policies that are indeed being pursued, if done so in a more holistic way, may indeed uplift the very same people. This communication breakdown does not befit a democracy. This principle to me is a recognition of this fact and given my interaction with the new leaders I feel confident that the debate on the reforms process will qualitatively change. The reforms are irreversible but atleast now the nation will know where its headed. As it should.

I see no reason for investors to shudder as the people at the helm are extremely competent and fully subscribe to the ideology of free enterprise and trade. However, how India progresses in the second half of this decade will be a model for all democracies in balancing their social obligations (employment generation is paramount!) with economic aspirations. They are not necessarily at odds. The art to manage them MUST become a synergetic science.

C. To enhance the welfare and well-being of farmers, farm labour and workers, particularly those in the unorganised sector, and assure a secure future for their families in every respect.

YI Comment: This principle, in my opinions, emanates from many sources. One is the traditional base the Congress has had amongst the farmers. The point about social realities being addressed through economic policy also resonates in this principle. The undeniable backwardness of Indian agriculture is not lost on anyone. At the same time the inescapable reality of how critical agriculture is to rural employment MUST be recognized. The welfare state in India primarily extends only to the public sector. The majority of Indians still subsist on agriculture and to even think of addressing socio-political challenges without addressing the unorganized sector in rural India is a colossal mistake. Once again as the BJP can tell you.

The extremely strong message that the starving farmers of Andhra Pradesh sent to their state government has been duly noted by all political parties. Andhra Pradesh under Mr.Chandrababu Naidu's premeirship symbolizes the tragedy of lop-sided development. Development where lush green lawns of foreign corporations like Oracle and Microsoft have an abundance of water and farmers in the countryside are committing suicide because there no water to irrigate their fields and hence no food to feed their children.

Just the other day I was having lunch with an eminent Indian historian who reminded of how CRITICAL it now seems Jawahar Lal Nehru's insistence was in ensuring UNIVERSAL Adult Franchise. He fought off opponents that called the masses illiterate and a danger to democracy. Today they have rescued it!

D. To fully empower women politically, educationally, economically and legally.

YI Comment: This basic principle comes right out of the name for the alliance - progressive. The Congress has historically been the champion of women's participation in the national mainstream. Of course, its insistence on this principle was far more sincere and intense during the freedom movement. Then Mahatma Gandhi ensured and greatly encouraged women to take roles of leadership. Who can forget women like Sarojini Naidu.

The dismal percentages of women in elected bodies MUST be addressed. I am sure legislations to address just such issues will be earnestly introduced. The women of India MUST take the new government to task in order to fulfill this promise.

E. To provide for full equality of opportunity, particularly in education and employment for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, OBCs and religious minorities.

YI Comments: This basic principle too is a pillar of progressive politics the world over. Affirmative action to galvanize the socially and economically backward is central to progressive ideology. Such galvanization is also the basis for many of the coalition's partners. When we delve deeper into this principle a little later in our analysis you will see the special attention being given to the tribals. That is indeed a a very welcome development. They have been most unjustly treated over the span of the last 50 or so years. Having to pay disproportionate prices for "development". The hope is that the new government will strike a humane balance between the rights of the tribals AND the needs of the nation.

A word of caution here for the new government. Those of you who closely follow Indian politics must remember the furore caused in 1989 when the government implemented the Mandal Commission recommendations. The recommendations provided a significant increase in reservations for these same sections of Indian society. The economically weak sections that did not qualify because of their social conditions felt left out and there were massive demonstrations and violence. Affirmative action everywhere arouses mixed feelings. The government will have to proceed with caution striking the right balance between true opportunity and social tranquility. It MUST not be driven by vote-bank politics as it will invariably harm the interests of the majority of Indians in that case.

F. To unleash the creative energies of our entrepreneurs, businessmen, scientists, engineers and all other professionals and productive forces of society.

YI Comment: Hard to find something more vague in terms of substance. But I believe it is important to make such optimism a guiding principle. Stating this desire doesn't mean much unless it's backed by policies and pronouncements that inspire. Time will tell how this government fared while fulfilling this ambition of theirs. It's also the ambition of every Indian that their government provide them the opportunity to become a productive force for their own nation.


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