"It's now time to deliver Mister PM!"

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The Indian parliament Sansad Bhavan in DelhiThe Indian parliament Sansad Bhavan in Delhi. Creator: Edmund Nigel Gall. Creative Commons License LogoThis image is licensed under Creative Commons License.

Some years ago I had the chance to visit the central hall of the Indian parliament and was overcome by the sense of history which this hoary building conveys. The British shifted their capital from Kolkatta to Delhi in 1911 and the building, then called the Central Legislative Assembly, was inaugurated in 1927 by Lord Irwin, the then viceroy of British India. This is the same building where the transfer of colonial power to the provisional government under Jawaharlal Nehru, our first PM, took place, as well as where the Constitution was framed by the Constituent Assembly. It is here that Nehru gave his first (and probably the finest) speech in independent India when he said "Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance".

Now the central hall of the Indian Parliament is the setting where, at the onset of a new session of Parliament, the President of India gives an address to both houses of Parliament. The address, which is given on behalf of the new government, is meant to outline the policies and development strategies of the new government and has been given since 1921 after the formation of the central legislature under the Government of India Act 1919. Also interesting is the debate which thereafter takes place, called the motion of thanks, as it gives an opportunity to the opposition to criticise the government.

The address by President Pranab Mukherjee on June 9th covered an entire gamut of topics and highlighted issues which need to be dealt immediately by the new government. These deal with reviving the country's slithering economy, providing more job opportunities to the youth, controlling inflation, eliminating poverty, no tolerance of violence against women, improving the agricultural sector, looking into the demands of the minority communities in India, curbing threats to internal security, and improving relations with neighbouring countries and the US. Apart from these various issues the President also emphasised the importance of the centre and state working together in dealing with the various issues. Transparency and accountability in the administration is also vital in achieving the desired outcomes highlighted by the President, hence the President also raised an important point about the importance of a clean and corrupt free administrative body.

The reactions to the address were on predictable lines. According to an article published by the Hindustan Times, a leading national daily, "The opposition slammed the government over the President's address, with the Congress saying it lacked 'original thought' and the CPI-M describing it as 'compilation of election slogans and rehash of the BJP manifesto'."[1] Other opposition parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party and CPI-M have doubted whether the ideas of BJP presented in its manifesto can be implemented by the government. Sitaram Yechury, a CPI-M leader, said that the President's speech just reveals what the government intends to do and does not provide solutions on how to solve the existing problems that the country faces. The Economic times, however, wrote that, "It is welcome that the Modi government's vision, as outlined in the President's speech, offers broad continuity of policy, albeit packaged in a new political language and combined with the added promise of efficient execution and integrity."[2]

Modi's first speech in parliament (interestingly Modi has become the PM in his very first attempt) during the debate on the motion of thanks also came for praise. He came across as an accommodative statesman devoid of bellicosity of the election speeches. The Indian Express wrote, "Prime minister Narendra Modi's reply to the debate on the president's speech in both Houses of Parliament was noted for the total lack of triumphalism. In conformity with his post-election stance, he seemed determined to pursue a consensus-based approach to national issues. His desire to take the opposition into confidence was apparent in his espousal of the bipartisanship that he seeks to follow."[3]

The new government also indicated its commitment towards women issued by electing Ms. Sumitra Mahajan, an 8 time MP, as the new Speaker of the Lower House. This took place even as the news of gang rapes in the state of UP hit the headlines. After the horrific and brutal rape of a young girl in Delhi in 2012, the larger issue of women's inequality in India has come to the forefront both nationally and internationally. To me this cannot be looked in isolation, merely as a law and order issue, but as part of a larger issue in the context of caste, class and gender inequalities and stratification of the Indian society. The new government will have to look at both short term and long term multi-pronged solutions for this very complex problem in case it wishes to address it in a holistic manner.

The inexperience of the new ministers was also evident in the foot in the mouth statements and tweets given by a few. Gen (R) VK Singh, a former chief of the Indian Army and now a minister in the new government sent a tweet criticising the designate chief of the Army whom he had opposed while in office. The Defence Minister was quick in defending the selection of the new army chief even though it had been done by the outgoing UPA government. The Indian Army has been totally apolitical and there has been bipartisan support on this. That is the reason why democracy has been enduring in India as opposed to most of its neighbours which have seen more military dictators then democratic leaders. I am confident that the apolitical nature of our armed forces will continue in the future and the new breed of leaders will show the same level of bipartisanship which was shown by the previous ones.

The new government has its task cut out in front of it. They have to hit the ground running in order to fulfil the promises they have made. They will have to take some unpopular and hard decisions especially on the economic front. A line in Tehelka magazine summed it up succinctly: "It's now time to deliver Mister PM".

References

[1] Hindustan Times: "President's speech lacked originality, say opposition parties", June 9th, 2014, IANS at New Delhi.

[2] The Economic Times: "President Pranab Mukherjee's speech outlines broad continuity", June 10th, 2014.

[3] The Indian Express: "New Team India Must Forge ahead together", June 14th, 2014.

Read also Avani's already published articles Ruminations of a First Time Voter and The Modi Government: Will it Live up to the High Expectations?.

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