If any average person with a layman’s impression of the state of India were to read the Prime Minister’s Independence Day address, he or she may relax with the comforting thought that the republic is straining at the leash to grow and flower in every sphere of life — and with just a little push the target of 9 per cent growth would be achieved and retained.
Thus, towards the end of his longish speech, Manmohan Singh proclaimed: “I believe that no power in the world can stop our country from achieving new heights of progress and development. What is needed is that we work together as one people for the success of our country. Let us once more resolve that we will continue to work for a progressive, modern and prosperous India.”
Following a set pattern, the Prime Minister pointed to the areas where the country had achieved progress such as the rural electrification scheme, the farm sector, child welfare and education, rural health facilities, the extension of banking services in the rural areas, science and technology, the welfare of Scheduled Castes and Tribes and other weaker sections of society, and of course, transparency in Government accounting procedures.
Considering that India is a vast country and that nothing short of a Himalayan effort, both in terms of financial resources and administrative efficiency, is required to make even small progress, the point has to be made that a sea change cannot be effected in standards and facilities overnight (that is, within the working span of five years that is given to any elected Government at the Centre).
So, small doses of progress and improvements in administrative efficiency over, say, a 10-year period (that is, spanning the lives of two Governments) are expected to make a difference to overall performance — leading to the attainment of a reasonably high GDP growth rate and an improvement in the quality of life of the average citizen on a sustained basis. Clearly, what this means is that, shorn of any “exogenous” disturbance, economic and administrative progress can come only very slowly in view of the vast scale of the operations involved.
But the interference of unhelpful “exogenous” factors can scupper all this, as seems to be happening today. Is this why, at least on two occasions in his Independence Day speech, the Prime Minister focused on “cooperation” — once relating to the “common man” and the second time to “the lack of political consensus on many issues?”
On August 16, Singh revisited the theme and amplified on the “political consensus” subject thus: “We need to rethink; India needs to think big. Political parties need to work together to realise the high growth of nine per cent which India is capable of.” In the same breadth, he admitted that there were problems within the UPA coalition, and there were problems within the Opposition.
Is the trend line of “political consensus” improving or deteriorating? This is a critical issue because on it depend the formulation and implementation of effective reform measures without which the republic cannot make the quantum jump to the 8 per cent-plus GDP growth rate.
In his Independence Day message, one detected a note of desperation in Singh’s statement: “Time has now come to view the issues which affect our development processes as matters of national security.”
But this is only one-half of the Prime Minister’s job; the other half is to get his way. The great debate today is whether Singh is at all capable of ramming his way through the obstacles which politicians of all hues are working overtime to set up on the road to development and growth.