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100-day millstone-or-mantra test

New Delhi, May 29: M. Venkaiah Naidu today claimed Narendra Modi had “indicated” a 100-day deadline to fulfil some of the government’s main promises, prompting colleagues to wonder why and on whose behalf the minister had committed himself to such a time frame.

Several ministers said they could not recall the Prime Minister having laid down such a guideline. At least one voiced fears that the deadline might turn out to be a dead weight on the new government.

Naidu, the urban development, poverty alleviation and parliamentary affairs minister in the NDA government, was briefing the media on the cabinet meeting that took place earlier in the day.

He said the government was bound by “three guidelines” — “overall governance, delivery and implementation” — and said Modi had “indicated” a 100-day deadline to implement the Centre’s priority agenda.

Among the “top 10 priorities” that Modi apparently said would have to be addressed within 100 days were: economy-related concerns; restoring confidence in the bureaucracy by guaranteeing stability of tenure for competent officers and giving them freedom to decide; affordable health for all; infrastructure and investment reforms; and stress on education, water, energy and roads.

“Yes, the PM indicated there will be a 100-day deadline,” Naidu iterated to The Telegraph.

Some of Naidu’s cabinet colleagues, however, claimed the Prime Minister had not set or indicated any deadline.

“Let us be clear. Throughout our election campaign, we trashed the Congress for pledging to bring down prices within 100 days of assuming office (in the UPA’s second term) and doing nothing about it. Why should we fall into the same trap?” a BJP cabinet minister said.

“Our position is we have a manifesto for five years that holds out several promises and commitments. Let us fulfil as many of them as are feasible within five years,” the minister added.

It remains to be seen whether Modi, who is partial towards phrases that catch the imagination, will co-opt the “100-day” mantra. The first-hundred-days concept was pioneered by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the US — which became a standard for gauging presidential performance. Indira Gandhi had her 20-point agenda.

But a minister from the BJP voiced fears that Naidu’s “100-day” commitment might become an albatross around Modi’s neck.

“We have to bring down inflation, spur the economy, rev up industrial growth, create jobs, give electricity. Is it humanly possible to deliver on all of them in a little over three months? It will possibly take that much time for the Prime Minister and his ministers to settle down in office and understand and appreciate the myriad issues before the country,” the minister said.

Modi had yesterday instructed his ministers to stick to the letter and spirit of his policy statements and decisions while speaking to the media. The instruction had come in the wake of the controversy that junior minister Jitendra Singh has stoked by demanding a debate on repealing Article 370, which gives Jammu and Kashmir special status.

The government also has to grapple with the exigency of getting two ordinances ratified by Parliament in the first session of the NDA government. Naidu announced that Parliament would convene from June 4 to 11.

The first ordinance was brought in to tweak a law to facilitate the appointment of former Uttar Pradesh-cadre officer Nripendra Mishra as the Prime Minister’s principal secretary.

The second, promulgated today hours after the cabinet passed it, paved the way for the transfer of 136 villages, 211 hamlets and seven “mandals” from Telangana’s Khammam district to Andhra Pradesh. The idea was to deal with the resettlement and rehabilitation of villagers who might have been displaced by the Polavaram power project.

The first ordinance was trashed by the Congress and the second by the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, whose government will be sworn in once Andhra Pradesh is bifurcated on June 2.

These ordinances await Parliament’s ratification. While the NDA has a big majority in the lower House, it is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha.

Asked how the government hoped to get the upper House’s assent, Naidu said it would reach out to the Opposition and coax its support just as the erstwhile Congress-led UPA had managed to work on the BJP to back several bills.

“We will speak to every party. Let there be a discussion, a debate and then a decision but no disruption please,” Naidu said.


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