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60% Singh reopens reform chapter

New Delhi, May 16: Manmohan Singh has given himself and his government a score of 6 out of 10.

But far from satisfied, India’s most educated Prime Minister has prescribed for the class a regimen that will give sleepless nights to the outside examiner ' the Left.

Hours after the CPM came out with a report card replete with perceived shortcomings of the government, Singh brought divestment back on his agenda and underscored the importance of labour reforms as well as a liberalised investment environment to meet the welfare goals of the coalition.

Addressing the Congress Working Committee that assessed the performance of the government which completes a year this Sunday, the Prime Minister said a journalist recently asked him to rate himself and his government.

“I said 6/10. For some, this may seem a reasonable mark to get. But I have never been satisfied with a 60 per cent. I do sincerely believe that we can do better. In the coming year, that will be our endeavour.”

In the candid speech before the Congress leadership, Singh stressed that “much, much more” needs to be done. “On the side of governance and policy-making, I do not wish to claim more than what is our due. Let me say, at the very outset, that we could have done more. Much, much more. I am not satisfied with what we have been able to do in terms of implementing new policy initiatives.”

The sting for the Left was in the tail but, displaying political acumen, Singh sold the controversial economic proposals as the means to fulfil the targets set by parties like the CPM. The party had found fault with most economic policies of the government in a report card released earlier in the day.

“We can generate even more employment if we move forward with the agenda of labour reform and the further liberalisation of investment policy. We must do more to protect the interests of workers in the unorganised sector, improve their working conditions and give them social security, even as we create a more competitive environment for the organised sector,” he said.

Singh sprang the welfare spin to bring divestment, too, back to the forefront. “We must once again pursue disinvestment in public enterprises, both to raise resources for development and to make public enterprises more accountable and efficient,” he said.

But he added that political consensus is required both within his party and across political parties to take the reforms agenda forward.

The Prime Minister sought to send a message that he was trying to meet the popular will, saying the people are “impatient” for change, a better quality of life and new opportunities. “We will be failing them if we do not think out of the box and act with courage. Bold initiatives are called for in economic reforms,” he added.

Singh’s message for his ministerial colleagues was to restructure public expenditure and not treat public enterprises as their “personal fiefs”.

He showered praise on Sonia Gandhi who, for the second time in less than a week, hailed him as a “competent and capable Prime Minister”.

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