Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

29 Nov, 2013

The India Story: Minister Outlines Policy Priorities for 2014 and Beyond


Singapore, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, 27-November-2013 – The Minister for Information & Broadcasting Mr Manish Tewari today delivered Fullerton Lecture at IISS, Singapore. Text of the speech is as follows:

Honourable Dr. Tim Huxley, Executive Director, IISS, Asia, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to speak to this august gathering. In a short period of time the Fullerton Lecture Series have established themselves as a signature event. The galaxy of eminences who have spoken hear bears eloquent testimony to the pre-eminent position of the IISS as one of the foremost thought platforms of the world.

Let me begin from the beginning. What after all is the India story? What are the contours and parameters within which we are trying to locate the India story? What time frames are we talking about? Since its liberation in 1947, India has been an unfolding tale of a million mutinies that have been imploding on its mosaic on a daily basis. Zillions of ambitions and aspirations that bubble up every day in the hearts and minds of more than a billion people who are the permanent cast in this story. It thus becomes imperative to locate and anchor this milieu in its broader historical context. Even a narrower focus on India’s growth trajectory in the last one decade would be incomplete and perhaps misleading if we do not take into account the factors that have moulded and shaped the policies India has adopted as also defined and determined the path it has trodden.

The idea of India has baffled many thoughtful gentlemen in the past too. Prime Minister Winston Churchill could not imagine that India was a single Westphalian entity any more than the equator was.

Since Independence, the warp and the woof of the India story has been consistently woven by the Congress around a pluralistic society aspiring for equity in the policy frameworks of governance. The India story has been, by and large, consistent with this vision and understanding of India since the Congress has been heading the government for almost the better part of time over the past sixty six years except perhaps intermittently for little over a decade when other political formations were at the helm of the ship of state.

As we engage in this conversation a round of provincial elections are playing themselves out concurrently and national elections are scheduled for the April-May of 2014. However to discern the policy priorities for a Congress government in its next term it is imperative too first delineate the core contours that define India today and then rewind to 2004 and evaluate the past nine plus years of UPA’s rule as that is both the trampoline and the spring board for future policy initiatives.

(i) The first contour of course is demographics. India is a young country with increasing capacities both among its employable and the employed population. When this dividend starts declining among some of the hyper powers of today say by 2033 India would just about be peaking and plateauing on this score.

(ii) The second is the increasing efficiency of its working paradigms. A twenty one year old who started his career in 1991, now has 21 years of experience in a neo-liberal economic order. They are now more than acquainted with modern technology, foreign companies, and above all a market driven domestic dynamic.

(iii) The third is better companies. Indian companies are increasingly becoming both capable and competitive. The trepidation that our corporate institutions are archaic monolith’s that would collapse in the face of global competition has been replaced by a sanguineness manifested by Indian corporations in a plethora of sectors. They have not only become conglomerates but are rapidly acquiring companies in the emerged economies also.

(iv) The fourth is an increasingly robust financial order. India invests 35% of its GDP every year. Steps are being initiated to reinforce the financial system by emulating best practices that the global financial system have on offer. The objective being to convert good investment to GDP ratio into a higher rate of GDP growth.

(v) The fifth is enhanced economic integration. India is now engaging with the world in a humongous manner. Gross flows on the current account are now 63.3% of GDP and gross flows on the financial account are now 55.3% of GDP. This fructifies into cross border gross flows of 118.6% of GDP. This makes India one of the more permissive economies in the world. Engagement with the world brings in its wake a flow of ideas that invigorates the intellectual landscape also.

(vi) The sixth is liberalism, democracy and a bottoms up Public Discourse. A Liberal democracy that anchors both the rule of law and an institutionalised judicial system Democracy ensures that issues which resonate with an overwhelming bulk of the people engage the collective energies of the policy community and liberalism ensures that there is space for the last man in the last row to live his dream without fear of discrimination or bias while the new media provides an opportunity to over 100 million Indians and growing the ability to articulate their views without let or hindrance.

Now let’s turn to evaluating the performance of the UPA over the past nine plus years. They are broadly five parameters on which any democratic dispensation can be benchmarked. They are as follows;

a) Political Stability- Since entering an era of coalition politics in 1991 India saw a fair amount of fluidity from 1996-2004 an era that saw non-congress governments and coalition’s at the centre. However if one was to juxtapose those eight years with the nine plus years of UPA rule from the May of 2004 till now you would discern that Political Instability as a thought, construct or a concept has almost but disappeared from the terra-firma of the Indian public discourse. This is the bedrock that has facilitated a silent revolution of empowerment that has engulfed India over the past decade. The specifics of which I would elaborate later in my presentation.

b) Social Cohesion- The idea of India has been underpinned by the core values that constitute the philosophical construct of natural rights and humanism. They are the fundamental freedoms of thought, expression, religious beliefs, democratic choice and a variety of others that fall within the remit of this overarching construct. The India that the UPA inherited in 2004 was scarred by a state sponsored pogrom perpetrated against the largest minority in the west Indian state of Gujarat. Coming on the heels of the religious polarisation perpetuated in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s using Indian mythology as an anchor it put a severe strain on the pluralistic ethos of India. One of the foremost tasks of the UPA government was to reassure its citizens and especially the minorities that there life, limb and liberty would receive the fullest protection of the Indian state while persevering to bring the criminals who implemented this pogrom to justice. For the true test of a democracy is not how you treat your majority but rather how you treat your minorities. Over the past years the UPA government has been successful in mitigating fear, maintaining peace and mainstreaming the minorities. This has resulted in the dissipation of the perception of a nation at war with itself. Again this has provided a fillip to economic activity as both the people and the state have been able to concentrate their attention upon bread and butter issues.

c) Internal Security & it’s external linkages- India still faces serious challenges to its internal security both in the North West from cross border state sponsored terrorist activity as well as in the North East where ethnic insurgencies receive external patronage. Coupled with this is the problem of left wing extremism in central India where the bulk of our natural resources are concentrated. The UPA government through a combination of hard power and soft power initiatives as well as capacity augmentation measures has been able to keep the security situation stable despite grave provocations. The worst of course being the Mumbai outrage of 2008 ironically whose fifth anniversary was yesterday. Unfortunately the accused who perpetrated this assault continue to enjoy the generous hospitality of our neighbour. With triple transitions coming up in Afghanistan next year the security situation in South and West Asia requires responsible engagement by all stakeholders. Similarly in the eastern theatre and the broader Indian Ocean region the string of pearls and other such exotically disruptive paradigms would only serve to make the global commons more volatile rather than secure the global flows of goods and resources.

d) Economic Development – In the past nine plus years the UPA government has built up perhaps the most ambitious and holistic rights based social security infrastructure. The Right to information, guaranteed 100 days of employment to the rural poor, free and compulsory education to each child below 14 years of age, the most comprehensive school lunch programme that feeds 120 million children daily, food security for over 800 million people, forest rights to the indigenous people and the overhaul of antiquated land acquisition laws the list of initiatives is breath taking in the trinity of its scale conception and implementation. All this was actioned without sacrificing growth. The UPA government has delivered an average rate of 8.1% GDP growth over the past nine plus years. The mantra of equity with growth has been captioned and the talk has been walked. This was achieved despite the Arbitrage, Derivatives and leverages – the ADL cocktail of 2008 that mauled the neo-liberal economic order down to its very fundamentals. After four stellar years from 2004 to the September of 2008 growth did slow down in 2008-09, but India quickly rebounded from the slower growth of 6.7% in that year to record rates of growth of 8.6% in 2009-10 and 9.3% in 2010-11 respectively.

Unfortunately there was a yet another upheaval in the global economy in 2011 on account of the sovereign debt crisis in Europe and that resulted in the subsequent slide in the global economic paradigms. Concurrently India also had to confront domestic constraints on investment and consumption. As a corollary growth declined to 6.2% in 2011–12 and 5.0% in 2012-13. The current account deficit widened to USD 88 billion or 4.8% of GDP in 2012-13 though indications suggest that we would close the fiscal with a CAD of 3.8%. A sharp down turn in manufacturing growth and a quantitative decrease in the services sector further decelerated growth in the first quarter of 2013-14 to 4.4 %. India’s economic indices during this period are not an exception but unfortunately the current norm. Most developing economies have been hit by the phenomenon labelled as the ‘Great Descent’.

The silver lining however is the manifestation of the green shoots of recovery in the badly-affected Euro zone economies. Anticipation of an upward swing in the economic trajectory of the US, coupled with the back benching of quantitative easing, has generated hope of a gradual global revival. The Indian economy has also showed early indications of recovery with an increase in exports in the second economic quarter; reversal of negative growth in the manufacturing sector, rise in freight traffic, a generous monsoon and a sharp increase in the sown area which should fructify into enhanced farm output. Numerous reform measures over the past one year should start fructifying from the second half of the current fiscal translating into the expectation that the Indian economy will grow at over 5.0% and perhaps closer to 5.5% in 2013-14. Juxtaposed against global economic context even a growth rate of 5.0% should qualify for more than an E for effort. Our foremost policy priority therefore, would be to return the growth trajectory to the commanding heights of the previous decade by expediting pending financial legislation as well as other policy initiatives which would ensure the top tracking of this process.

e) Foreign Policy- In the past nine plus years one of the significant successes of the UPA has been strategic positioning of India’s interests in the evolving churn of global developments. India has successfully engaged with US, Russia, China, EU, Japan, ASEAN, other global powers, multilateral institutions and its own region managing contradictions without being overawed by the responsibility that the movement to multi polarity portends. Notwithstanding the Asian rebalance, the continued emergence of China as the lonely power or the tumultuous events in the Middle east the moral imperatives that form the bedrock of our foreign policy have not been diluted but tempered with the pragmatism of the times we live in.

In the past nine plus years the task of national reconstruction has been almost frantic to say the least. Let me enumerate the steps taken to improve the Indian financial architecture in this year itself. A commission of theoreticians and practitioners has drafted a new Indian Financial Code a legislation drafted to replace 50 existing laws governing finance with a single concurrent financial statute. A brand new Companies Act is now in place. Commodity futures are now dealt by the Ministry of Finance. A new law has been promulgated establishing the Defined Contributory Pension mechanism under a statutory regulator.

The obvious question that then begs an answer is what must be the policy priorities of a Congress / UPA govt in 2014, if people do give us that opportunity. Simply put it should translate into consolidating the progress of the previous decade to build a state that is able to deliver to the expectations of an empowered, ignited, transformed, connected but a very restless young India.

The first and foremost task is to ensure that India transcends from a low Middle income to a Middle Income country. This would require liberalising our economy further to attract FDI/ FII inflows. This in turn means ensuring that an environment is recreated where it is easy to do business and ensuring that profit is not made to sound like a dirty word in our public discourse. This is the only way to ensure that the ten million plus young people – the flower of our democratic dividend are gainfully employed. Coupled with this is of course a special emphasis too quickly put in place the remaining building blocks of the financial edifice namely the Direct Taxes Code, Goods & Services Tax legislation Banking and Insurance enactments DTAA’s TIEU’s to name but a few.

The second is to build the Capacity of the state to be able to effectively address, surmount and yet nurture the opportunities that emerging frontiers have on offer. A State that can deliver public goods and services efficaciously.

The third is a concerted attempt to completely overhaul India’s colonial administrative system so that vertical and horizontal avenues of talent intake are created at every level of government. Perform or perish must be the new administrative mantra of India.

The fourth is the rewriting of a panoply of century old laws with an expiry date to synchronise them with contemporary realities that adequately empower the instrumentalities of the state to implement these covenants by putting in place mechanisms that put a premium on both performance and accountability.

The fifth is to create capacity in the judicial system at all levels to ensure that delivery of justice is efficacious and swift.

The sixth is to make it unambiguously clear to our public institutions that policy choices and their execution are the eminent domain of democratically elected governments.

The seventh is to work for the reform of global institutions to reflect current global realities and not the post World War II power balance.

The eighth is to augment institutional wherewithal to protect our national interests both on land and the high seas from state and non state actors.

The ninth is to work with likeminded nations prevent and pre-empt militarization of outer space.

The tenth of course is to redouble our efforts at global disarmament. In this context we welcome the accord with regard to Iran’s Nuclear programme. The last but not the least is to fix our politics and regenerate a spirit of multi-partisanship on critical policy issues so that our legislative institutions remain relevant to underwrite this transformation.

As we look to the next two decades India requires space for consolidation to action the above elucidated menu of priorities. That means tranquillity on our borders, stability at home and an enlightened and secular leadership that can engage at home and with the world in a spirit of partnership and not demagoguery.

India’s path of inclusive growth rests on the principles of social justice and equity, peace and harmony, pluralistic understanding of the social reality and celebration of diversity.

This ladies and gentlemen in brief is a snapshot of the real India story.