By Ashok Handoo : “We are building a new India in which every citizen would have a stake,” announced the Prime Minister from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort. An India which would be prosperous, in which all citizens would live a life of honour and dignity, in peace and goodwill where problems would be solved through democratic means and basic rights of the people protected. The occasion was the 64th Independence Day of India- a proud moment for all Indians.
Indeed, the country is on the march towards this goal. A lot has been achieved through various programmes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act which assures 100 days of employment in a year in rural areas, the Right to Education, the Right to Information, 50 percent reservation for women in local bodies, protection and welfare of minorities, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes etc., through scholarships and special programmes. These have made a difference in peoples lives. India today stands among the fastest growing economies of the world. Despite a drought like situation last year we faced the global economic slow down brilliantly.
But we are still far, far away from what we intend to achieve. As Dr. Manmohan Singh put it “we are faced with serious challenges.” These need to be resolved. We cannot allow our society to get divided in the name of religion, state, caste or language, which generally happens.
The Prime Minister underlined the fact that after the Green Revolution about 40 years ago, through the efforts of agricultural scientist Norman Borlaug who commands a special place in the history of Indian agriculture, we have not witnessed any big technological breakthrough in Agriculture. It is time that we acquire technologies to address the needs of dry land farming, climate change, falling levels of ground water and deteriorating quality of soil. Dr. Manmohan Singh announced that the Borlaug Institute of South Asia is being established in India. It will facilitate availability of new and improved seeds and new technology to the farmers in India and other South Asian countries.
We have yet to achieve the 4 percent growth rate in agriculture. That calls for special attention to the farm sector. Support price for wheat was enhanced to Rs. 1100 per quintal from Rs. 630, last year. Paddy price too was almost doubled to Rs. 1000, to make farming remunerative for the farmers. But it has a side effect too-prices in the open market also increase. So, a fine balance is needed.
The Prime Minister admitted that inflation has caused difficulties to the people, especially when the prices of commodities of day to day use rise. But he emphasized that every possible effort was being made to tackle this problem. Steps to minimize the burden on poor in particular, were being taken. Dr. Manmohan Singh was confident of succeeding in these efforts.
The process of building a new India with our progressive social agenda and inclusive growth is well in the making. Dr. Singh said that today almost every child in our country has access to primary education and we now need to focus on secondary and higher education and improve the quality at every level. He announced a Bill would soon be brought to the Parliament for constitution of two separate councils in higher education and health, to accelerate reforms in these sectors. The children, he said, need to be taught the importance of cleanliness and hygiene in schools “from the very beginning under a campaign for a clean India.”
He also spoke about the involvement of private sector in building physical infrastructure, like roads, ports and airports. “The resources required to create good physical infrastructure are difficult for government alone to mobilize,” Dr. Singh said. This policy has started bearing fruit. Recently, a new world class terminal of the Delhi Airport was dedicated to the nation.
Obviously, peace is paramount for carrying forward these efforts. It was in this backdrop that the Prime Minister made fervent appeal to people in Kashmir, the North-East and also the Naxals, to adopt peaceful, democratic methods in voicing their grievances and come to the negotiating table to discuss the issues. Violence does well to no one. Ultimately issues have to be resolved through negotiations. The sooner it is done the better it is.
It was with conviction that the Prime Minister said, “Our future is bright. The day our dreams will come true is not far off.”
The words could as well turn out prophetic. But that requires a conscious effort on the part of all Indians to join hands, sink differences, resolve issues through peaceful means, keep the nations interests uppermost in their minds, bid farewell to corruption and behave in a truly secular and democratic way. If we are able to do that, realization of our dream is only a matter of time.