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PM rings out bad year with pledge

New Delhi, Dec. 31: Good riddance, 2011, be gone for good. To a year that left him looped in the pit of the worst crises of his political life, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today delivered a parting kick, saying it was a time he did not even wish to dwell on.

Underlying his elaborate message sent out to the nation this evening was a palpable yearning that his troubles will expire with the lapsing of the annual calendar, and UPA II will emerge from the wintry mist, its messy slate wiped clean, its future bright and shining. There is a tabula rasa wished in the New Year for which the Prime Minister has a ready script of commandments aimed at inspiring a stable turn to the trembled UPA leaf.

It is an old list of vows tweaked to masquerade as five novel articles of faith — livelihood security, economic security, energy security, ecological security and national security. These, the Prime Minister said, would be “top of the agenda” in 2012 and exhorted all to “work together as a nation, while working with like-minded nations around the world”.

He picked the economic slowdown and the surge in concern over corruption as key problem areas but said, consolingly, “We must not be downcast at these events. All countries and economies go through cycles. We must remember that downturns are followed by upturns. Indeed they are often a test of our ability to respond to new challenges.”

Singh sounded seized of growing restiveness in the polity, particularly over corruption, and made a personal pledge: “I want to assure you all on this New Year’s day that I personally will work to provide an honest and more efficient government, a more productive, competitive and robust economy and a more equitable and just social and political order.”

There was, the Prime Minister said, a “revolution of rising expectations” across the world and there was need to address them. “A ‘revolution of rising expectations’, fostered by the extraordinary reach of the electronic media and the connectivity provided by new social networking platforms, has kept governments around the world on their toes. The task before us is clear. We must address the new concerns that have arisen….”

The Prime Minister sought to throw off the siege around his government and challenged critics who blamed him for serial failures in the year gone by. “I believe we have made more progress than is commonly realised. I am personally delighted that the government was able to introduce the Food Security Bill and the Lokpal and Lokayukta bill in Parliament. The Lokpal and Lokayukta bill was passed by the Lok Sabha. It is unfortunate that the bill could not be passed in the Rajya Sabha.”

He refrained from intervening in the flaming political arguments that have followed the abrupt fall of the guillotine on the Lokpal bill in the Rajya Sabha and only iterated his resolve to create an “effective” ombudsman. Unmoved by allegations of “choreographed conspiracy” to bury the Lokpal, the Prime Minister patted his government on the back for its legislative record.

“Taken together with the Right to Information Act, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the Right to Education Act, these are legislative legacies that generations of Indians will come to value, appreciate and benefit from,” he said.

The biggest challenge before the nation, he said, was banishing poverty, ignorance and disease. He recalled his own childhood in “a village without a doctor or a teacher, no hospital, no school, no electricity” and said, “Of the many challenges we face, the most important is to empower every citizen with the light of education. I say this with the deepest conviction because I know what education did for me.”

He counselled patience, arguing that many elements of the government’s strategy will take time to bear fruit, and said, “I believe that the initiatives we have taken to invest in education and health, provide an employment guarantee and also provide food security, constitute a robust response to the challenge of providing greater Livelihood Security for our people.”

The Prime Minister spoke of an increased rate of national economic growth — from four per cent in the 1980s to an average of eight per cent today — but also cautioned on the challenges of growth. Rapid urbanisation was among them, as was corruption.

“Today’s youth, born in the 1980s and later, would have no memory of the kind of corruption that the regime of controls and permits had created. To get a railway ticket or a telephone connection you had to bribe someone. To buy a scooter you had to bribe someone to jump the queue! However, even as the creative energies of our people have been unleashed and old forms of corruption have vanished, new forms of corruption have emerged which need to be tackled. Elimination of corruption is critical to support genuine entrepreneurship. It is also the demand of the ordinary citizen.”

He backed the idea of a Lokpal in this regard but said that would only form part of the solution. “We also need reforms in systems of government which would increase transparency and minimise discretion so that the scope of misgovernance is reduced, he said, and also referred to the judicial accountability and citizens’ charter bills as elements of the government’s comprehensive effort to cleanse public life and make it more efficient.

But these, along with much else, are nagging and necessary carryovers into 2012 from a year the Prime Minister would eagerly forget.