The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PM hunt for speech spice

New Delhi, Aug. 3: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wants his ministers to help him prepare a list of projects he can announce from the Red Fort ramparts on August 15.

His predecessors, from Jawaharlal Nehru to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, have unveiled populist economic and political initiatives on Independence Day. The occasion has assumed greater importance whenever key state or national elections have been round the corner.

Last August 15, Vajpayee announced a mission to moon, a farmers’ television channel, modernisation of Delhi and Mumbai airports, schemes to rehabilitate the disabled and nomads and a package for small businesses.

In that way, Singh is no different from the others, though some of his recent gestures have set him apart. One was telling cabinet colleagues not to turn up in droves to see him off as he left for his first foreign trip last week. The other was asking government departments not to use his picture in advertisements at the drop of a hat.

It appears, however, the Prime Minister is keen not to make grand announcements that he cannot fulfil. His aides have made it clear to all ministers that only projects that can be implemented within 90 days — before mid-November — should be referred for the Prime Minister’s consideration.

Except for the farmers’ television channel, none of the schemes unveiled by Vajpayee has taken off, the aides say, suggesting that this is the fate Singh wants to avoid. He has directed that the schemes which are to be put up to him should be in a position to be at least started within 90 days, if not completed.

Elections are due in Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Haryana late this year or early next year.

Among schemes likely to be taken up is a package for agriculture that will be meant for farmers affected by either drought or floods, food-for-work programmes for the rural poor, a plan to harness the country’s water resources and more autonomy for profitable public sector units. Much of it is already there in the budget.

Singh’s aides believe such announcements are necessary to give the impression that the Congress-led government is concerned about the condition of the poor, whom the previous government allegedly ignored, leading to its electoral defeat.

Steep increases in petrol and diesel prices, a higher inflation rate than in the past, a lacklustre budget and a refusal to entertain demands for retaining high interest payments on provident fund are seen as factors denting the government’s popular appeal.

More important, perhaps, than any of these is the danger that a deficient monsoon poses with the potential of dragging down farm income and, therefore, the demand for manufactured products.

Feel-good became an accursed expression after the NDA’s defeat but feel-bad may not be the ideal Singh is looking up to.

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