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Miles to Go and Many Promises to Keep
by Murali Krishnan Bookmark and Share

The performance of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government in the first 100 days of its second tryst with power following an electoral verdict that amazed pollsters and Congress members alike has been a mixed bag - high on intent but inconsistent in terms of delivery.

After hiccups caused by the deadlock in negotiations with some of its pre-poll allies over portfolio allocations, Manmohan Singh put together his full team, combining youth and experience to get down to the business of governance. Clearly, the emphasis has been on the United Progressive Alliance's (UPA) unfinished agenda, especially in the infrastructure and development sectors, and announcement of a fresh stimulus package to pull the economy out of the present global slowdown.

Giving a push to its rural development and employment programmes - a major factor for its renewed mandate, a whopping Rs.391 billion ($8 billion) was set aside for the UPA's flagship National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, a jump of over 114 percent from the previous outlay in addition to increased allocation for the Bharat Nirman programme that seeks to improve infrastructure in villages.

Besides, the government saw through a historic Right to Education Bill that ensures free and compulsory education to children aged between six to 14 years, ushered a revamped Companies Bill and unveiled a draft direct tax code that will replace the nearly five-decade-old Income Tax Act.

According to historian Ramachandra Guha, 100 days could not be a yardstick to judge a government's performance but he was optimistic.

"I am not sure if we can evaluate the government on what they have achieved and what they have not. Many things have happened and policies have been framed. I will give them 50-50," Guha told IANS.

Recognizing that the lack of identity proof has resulted in harassment and denial of services to the poor and marginalized, the prime minister is according high priority to the newly constituted Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) that will provide a single identity number and card to each of the country's 1.17 billion people.

"Things are being put in place, policies are at different stages of implementation. In some cases, financial allocations are being made while in other cases approvals are needed from competent authorities before legislation," said Sriram Khanna, a professor at the prestigious Delhi School of Economics.

"The jury is still out on how the 100 days have passed but the moot point is that people will want this government to deliver and live up to its promises."

In the midst of the slowdown that is showing signs of recovery, the government has also had to focus its energies on a drought, the worst in nearly two decades, and battle with the problem of containing swine flu that has claimed more than 75 lives and affected over 3,000 people.

A deficit of more than six million hectares has been reported in paddy, which is the worst affected crop, and almost 252 of the 626 districts in the country have been declared drought-hit.

"This is clearly a big crisis that the government faces and somehow it is not showing the urgency that is required. Sharad Pawar, the agriculture minister, has not been able to act and there is a gaping hole in his ministry," said Meghnad Desai, British economist and Labor politician, who claims to be a good friend of Manmohan Singh.

"He (Singh) has several competent ministers in Pranab Mukherjee and P. Chidambaram and even Murli Deora but somehow despite India being a rising power, we do not have a cabinet that reflects a super power," Desai told IANS.

On the security front, having described the Mumbai terror strike as the tipping point to revamp national security, Manmohan Singh has continued to stress on putting in place critical strategies, fill police vacancies and strengthen intelligence systems to thwart further attacks. However, there is still a long way to go to secure the country.

The government had to face some uncomfortable moments after Manmohan Singh's trip to the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Egypt where a joint statement delinked terror from the composite dialogue with Pakistan and also included a controversial reference to trouble-hit Balochistan.

Though the opposition claimed it was a surrender of "national interest", the prime minister stood his ground saying he had not broken national consensus and pointed out that the only way forward to mend relations with Pakistan was to begin to trust despite all that had happened in the past.

"Not trust blindly, but trust and verify," he said, borrowing a signature phrase of the late US president Ronald Reagan.

The challenges before the government are plenty and, in many cases, difficult. Soon after he was sworn in, Manmohan Singh quoted French Romantic writer Victor Hugo as saying that "No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come".

How he and his government turn that idea to purposeful action will be keenly watched. 

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