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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 25, June 14, 2014

Questions About New Government’s Policies

Saturday 14 June 2014, by Bharat Dogra

As India’s new government speeds up the implementation of a selective agenda, several questions need to be raised about the direction and content of new policy decisions and likely decisions. Let’s pick up the newspapers of just one day (May 30) to see the direction of the new government’s decisions. (All news reports cited below are from Delhi editions of newspapers dated May 30.)

‘Sushma, Kerry discuss $500 billion target for trade,’ says a headline in The Hindu. This report said: “External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Wednesday held discussions with US Secretary of State John Kerry on the two countries’ shared commitment to boost trade and economic ties to $ 500 billion.” The same report quotes former US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell as saying that this needs “some tough but vital decisions on both sides”.

This raises the question: when there are many pending issues relating to fair and just trade such as WTO negotiations and rules, threats to sovereignty in crucial matters like food security, patents etc., why this rush for an arbitrary high figure of trade? Should we expand trade at all costs, or should we give more importance to ensuring that trade is just and fair, and protect national interests?

A headline in The Indian Express read: “Likely soon—green nod for projects worth Rs 80,000 cr”. In this context there are several crucial questions regarding whether environmental and social appraisals of all these projects have been satisfactorily completed. Have the concerned gram sabhas been provided project documents in their language? Have public hearings been held properly? Has the government satisfied itself that including social and environmental factors, the benefits of the projects are higher than the costs? All these questions are necessary not only in a legal sense, but also to ensure that the national interest and interest of sustainable development are actually achieved.

Under a headline titled, ‘Govt open to Air India sell-off’, The Times of India reported: “Decrying the state of Air India, aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju on Thursday said the government was not closed to any idea including privatisation, adding that it was not possible to meet all commitments made by UPA”. Here a question should be asked: whether our efforts should not be to save Air India by making the necessary reforms, at the same time punishing the culprits who ruined the national asset leading to massive economic losses and ruin?

A news reported in The Indian Express said: “The Ministry of Defence is set to review the UPA Government’s policy of blacklisting key global military contractors on allegations of misconduct.....” Here a warning should be raised that in this process the door should not be re-opened for arms merchants who have been found guilty in the past, all in the name of ‘fresh mind’ and ‘fresh chapter’ to borrow the words of the concerned Minister.

Other high foreign investment proposals have also been reported in the first few days of the new government. The Times of India headlined: ‘We are not economic fundamentalists : RSS”. This report said: “In a significant statement that increases the Narendra Modi Government’s leeway on liberalising FDI rules the RSS has said it does not see itself as an economic fundamentalist.”

Well, these are certainly clever words used by the RSS to dodge such an early moving away from its propagated agenda of national interest and self-reliance, but don’t forget people will be watching out carefully for divergences from precepts.

Bharat Dogra is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several social initiatives and movements.

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