Governance

Performance deficit

Print edition : September 20, 2013

President Pranab Mukherjee addressing the nation on the eve of Independence Day last year. Photo: HO/OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT/AFP

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort in New Delhi on Independence Day this year. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

The Independence Day addresses to the nation of the President and the Prime Minister reflect the Congress’ failure as a ruling party to keep the promises made to the people.

TO celebrate the country’s Independence Day every year on August 15, there have been two addresses to the nation, one by the President and another by the Prime Minister.

In Iliad, Homer wrote: “Two heads are better than one.”

Let us examine the essence of the addresses this year of two heads, the head of the state and the head of the executive.

In para 2 of his address, President Pranab Mukherjee stated: “Gandhiji sought freedom from both foreign rule as well as the indigenous social chains that had imprisoned our society for long…. He promised freedom from want and deprivation. For nearly seven decades now, we have been masters of our destiny. This is then the moment to ask: are we heading in the right direction? Gandhiji’s vision cannot be turned into reality if we spurn the very values that were compulsory to his cause: sincerity of effort, honesty of purpose and sacrifice for the larger good.”

It may be added here that apart from the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, several other leaders of the freedom struggle and distinguished framers of the Constitution of India had affirmed that the chief objective of free India was to end poverty and the suffering of the people.

While passing the resolution about Aims and Objects of the Constituent Assembly on 22 January 22, 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru declared: “The first task of this Assembly is to free India through a new Constitution to feed the starving people, to clothe the naked masses and to give every Indian fullest opportunity to develop himself according to his capacity.…Wherever we turn, we are confronted with this problem. If we cannot solve this problem soon, all our paper Constitutions will become useless and purposeless.”

On August 14, 1947, the eve of India’s freedom, the Constituent Assembly met at 11-00 p.m., and Dr Rajendra Prasad, President of the Assembly, asserted: “To all we give the assurance that it will be our endeavour to end poverty and squalor and its companions hunger and disease, to abolish distinction and exploitation and ensure decent conditions of living.”

In his historic speech “Tryst with Destiny”, on the eve of Independence, Nehru declared: “The future is not one of resting but of incessant striving so that we may fulfil the pledges we have so often taken and one we shall take today also. The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity.”

Thus, at every stage of the Indian National Congress party when Gandhiji led the freedom struggle and Jawaharlal Nehru and other leaders adopted the Constitution and formed the government of free India, all leaders affirmed that the chief objective of their efforts was to give high priority to ending the poverty and the suffering of the people.

The Congress party cannot claim that it did not have enough time and opportunity so far. It may be noted that during the period from August 15, 1947, to the end of the term of the present Prime Minister, Congressmen have graced the post of Prime Minister for 80 per cent of the time while non-Congressmen have been Prime Ministers only in the remaining period. The latter group includes non-Congress Prime Ministers whose terms were short-lived owing to the deceptive support of the Congress party.

It is high time Congressmen occupying high positions in the government and in the party organisation came forward with a trustworthy answer to President Pranab Mukherjee’s forthright question about the abnormal delay in ending poverty and the suffering of the people.

The question of failure of the Congress party and its governments for over seven decades has been raised by a person who is not just a serving President, but one who had been a committed Congressman for more than 40 years and served effectively to sustain the ruling party, including its United Progressive Alliance, in power in several critical situations.

Decay in the moral fibre

Paragraph 3 of the address asserted: “Democracy is much more than the right to vote every five years; its essence is the aspirations of the masses; its spirit must influence the responsibilities of the leaders and duties of the citizens every day…. It survives through accountability, not profligacy. And yet we have allowed unbridled personal enrichment, self-indulgence, intolerance, discourtesy in behaviour and disrespect for authority to erode our work culture. The biggest impact of the decay in the moral fibre of our society is on the hopes and aspirations of the young and the poor.”

The conclusive part of paragraph 3 of the address referred to Gandhiji’s advice to avoid seven sins, namely “politics without principles, wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, and worship without sacrifice”.

The President’s address made the following contention: “We have to pay heed to his advice as we work towards building a modern democracy. The ideals of patriotism, compassion, tolerance, self-restraint, honesty, discipline and respect for women have to be converted into a living force.”

The very stress in the address that patriotism and other ideals “have to be converted into a living force” leads to the irresistible conclusion that these ideals are all, at present, not alive in our society, but dead and gone.

Paragraph 4 of the address is categorical: “Today we see widespread cynicism and disillusionment with the governance and functioning of institutions in our country. Our legislatures look more like combat arenas rather than fora that legislate. Corruption has become a major challenge.

The precious resources of the nation are being wasted through indolence and indifference. It is sapping the dynamism of our society. We need to correct this regression.”

In the paragraphs 5 to 14, the President assessed the regress in several institutions of public importance and suggested requisite steps to be taken to raise human development of the people and the stability of a functioning democracy.

In paragraph 15, the President observed: “There will be a general election in our country before I have the privilege of addressing you again on the eve of our next Independence Day. This great festival of democracy is an opportunity for us to elect a stable government which will ensure security and economic development. Every election must become a crucial milestone in our nation’s journey towards greater social harmony, peace and prosperity.”

In paragraph 16, he said: “Democracy has given us an opportunity to recreate another golden age. Let us not squander this extraordinary opportunity. The journey ahead calls for wisdom, courage and determination. We must work on across-the-board revival of our values and institutions. We must realise that rights go with responsibilities. We must rediscover the virtue of self-scrutiny and self-restraint.”

In paragraph 17, he said: “Let me conclude by quoting from the great classic Bhagvad Gita where the Teacher propounds his views and then says: ‘ Ÿatha icchasi tatha kuru’ (even as you choose, so you do). I do not wish to impose my views on you. I have presented to you what I think is right. Now it is for your conscience, for your judgment, for your mind to decide what is right.”

He added: “On your decisions rests the future of our democracy. Jai Hind!”

The Prime Minister’s address

In his Address to the Nation, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh first conveyed his deepest sympathy to the people of Uttarakhand on the loss of life and property during the recent floods.

He paid tributes to the Army, paramilitary and Air Force personnel, and other government officers for their outstanding work in the difficult conditions there. He also expressed pain at the loss of the submarine INS Sindurakshak and its crew.

The Prime Minister began his speech thus: “We achieved independence in 1947 under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. If we look at our subsequent journey, we would find that our country has seen major changes every ten years.”

There was no other mention of Mahatma Gandhi or his ideals anywhere else in his long address in contrast to the President’s address where there are several references to the objectives of Gandhiji and the dismal failures to implement them. Probably, in the present political circumstances, Manmohan Singh has to pay tributes to several top leaders with the surname ‘Gandhi’.

The Prime Minister commended the first two decades under Jawaharlal Nehru’s leadership for its contribution to the processes of nation-building, of the 1970s when “Indiraji boosted our confidence as a nation”, and the next decade of Rajiv Gandhi when the foundation for the progress of information technology and panchayati raj institutions was laid.

About the 1990s, Manmohan Singh stated: “Under the leadership of Shri Narasimha Rao, we successfully negotiated a major economic crisis and embraced reforms for strengthening our economy.” The Prime Minister is too humble to include his major role in the introduction of the liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation (LPG) model.

The Prime Minister’s speech was a long one; 20 per cent of it dealt with the period of free India until 2004 and the rest was about the UPA government.

About the working of the UPA government, Manmohan Singh is exuberant in his description: “The first UPA government came to power in May 2004. Ever since, we have worked with sincerity and honesty to build a progressive and modern India.”

After being deluged with scams, the Prime Minister could have been more cautious in using the words “sincerity” and “honesty” in the working of the UPA government.

About the programmes of the UPA, he stated: “We have envisioned a prosperous India. An India which has got rid of the centuries-old burden of poverty, hunger and disease. Where the light of education has driven away the darkness of ignorance and superstition.

“Where there is social equality and all citizens enjoy equal economic opportunity. Where no section of the society faces injustice and exploitation.

“We have dreamt of an India where the youth get employment opportunities that enable them to contribute to the noble endeavour of nation-building.

“We have strived for India’s voice to be heard loud and clear at the international level.

“We have strived to build a nation that is looked at with respect and honour by the whole world.”

Here is a Prime Minister who has great schemes “envisioned”, whose Team UPA has “dreamt” or “strived” to get rid of poverty and hunger, to drive away the darkness of illiteracy and ignorance, to abolish injustice and exploitation.

Promises not kept

Leaving aside the absurdity of the daydream-like propositions of the UPA and its Prime Minister, we may note how the UPA government failed to implement some major assurances given earlier to the people.

The Congress and other parties that are part of the UPA coalition government under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh adopted the National Common Minimum Programme in May 2004. The CMP contained specific and time-bound schemes for increasing the expenditures on education and health, which are noted below:

“Education and Health: The UPA government pledges to raise public spending in education to at least 6 per cent of GDP with at least half of this amount being spent for primary and secondary sectors. This will be done in a phased manner.

“The UPA government will raise public spending on health to at least 2-3 per cent of GDP, over the next five years with focus on primary health care.”

In the accompanying table are given the expenditures by government (Centre and States combined) as percentage of the GDP for education and health for various financial years from 2004-05.

From the table, it is clear that the UPA government has failed miserably to come anywhere near the targets fixed.

The CMP sought to implement the accepted target by 2009. However, even after nine years, the expenditures on education and health, the most important sectors of social welfare, lag far below the targets set in 2004.

What happened to the pledges made by the UPA government?

After going through the Prime Minister’s latest Independence Day Address, the apt quotation seems to be: “When the head aches, all the body is out of tune” (from Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes).

Just like that, when the executive head of the UPA government is pained with crisis after crisis and is flogged with corruption and confusion, all the body of the government is out of tune in its performance.

Era Sezhiyan was a Rajya Sabha member.

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