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Busy ministers and a new beginning

By Business Standard
June 29, 2009 13:40 IST
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One month into the life of the new government (counting from the second swearing in of ministers and the full allocation of portfolios), it is clear that the second Manmohan Singh government has started off on a completely different note from the first one.

In 2004, the airwaves were filled with declamations from the Left on what they would and would not allow, the stock market crashed as prices fell by a third, Finance Minister P Chidambaram tried manfully to do some firefighting and restore confidence, the National Common Minimum Programme laid out some unattractive markers for policy and priorities, and the initial excitement about having Dr Singh as prime minister disappeared.

This time round, the stock market responded to the news of the Congress/UPA victory by hitting the upper circuit filter, prices have risen by a further 10 per cent over the past month, there is no NCMP to tie down the government, and instead of public bickering there are ministerial announcements on a flurry of initiatives.

Kamal Nath is busy trying to get the highway programme back on track, Anand Sharma is trying to breathe new life into the Doha Round of stalled trade talks, Dayanidhi Maran has promised a national fibre policy, Veerappa Moily has promised a law on judicial corruption and wealth disclosure, and Kapil Sibal has announced sweeping changes in education policy.

Jairam Ramesh gives every impression of being a breath of fresh air in Paryavaran Bhavan, and even A Raja is busy confabulating on how to get 3G spectrum pricing right.

The prime minister has appointed Nandan Nilekani to handle the national identity card project, Sonia Gandhi has written to the government with a draft scheme for delivering the election promise of food security, Parliament is being promised a full legislative agenda (unlike in 2008, when it met for all of 46 days), and Pranab Mukherjee is busy finalising the Budget for the year.

P Chidambaram has been busy visiting Kashmir and Kandhamal, and has banned the Maoists.

Overall, there is an air of purpose, and in places the sense of a new beginning.

In all this, there is evidence of speed but also haste.

Kapil Sibal, for instance, has already run into some headwind on his policy package for education, and may have to do some backpedalling; it is also not clear that his emphasis on uniformity and centralisation is entirely desirable. And Anand Sharma may find that a breakthrough in Doha is not very easy.

Meanwhile, Mamata Banerjee has rapidly lowered expectations, even as the country has heard little from Sushil Kumar Shinde on the critical power front, and nothing at all from Sharad Pawar when action is urgently required to deal with the prospect of failed monsoons in parts of the country.

In defence, there is evidence of the armed forces gearing up to face a potential Chinese threat along the disputed border, while the cancellation of a howitzer contract and the blacklisting of some firms involved in the bidding show that defence purchases remain a problem-ridden area.

Despite the gaps, though, it does seem to be the case that most ministers have taken seriously the prime minister's observation that this time there can be no excuses.

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Business Standard
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