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India’s Future Agenda

What challenges lie ahead for India — and how can Indians overcome them?

August 24, 2004

What challenges lie ahead for India — and how can Indians overcome them?

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took office on May 22, 2004. In his first Independence Day address, Mr. Singh invoked the memory of the leaders of India's freedom movement — and the struggle they waged under the inspiring leadership of Mahatma Gandhi — to urge his fellow Indians to stay open-minded in tackling the country's many challenges.

Brothers and sisters, it is one brick after another that helps make a building. Millions of bricks go to make a great building. In the same manner, the efforts of millions of people go into the formation of a nation.

The process of nation-building is a great enterprise of adventure and creativity. It requires all of us to work together, bonded by our love for our Motherland.

This love flows from our identity as Indians. Whatever be our religion, region, language, caste or culture, we are all Indians — and India is ours.

Our strength derives from our unity in diversity. The principles of secularism, social justice and the equality of all before law are the defining feature of our nation.

Today is a day we re-dedicate ourselves to the service of our nation and of each and every citizen — especially those less fortunate than us.

This day comes for us in the middle of the monsoons. Each year when we meet here, we also look at the clouds above and wonder whether it would rain. This year, too, we have looked at the skies with anxiety.

In Andhra Pradesh, I went to understand the problems of farmers, suffering from the impact of drought and to hold the hands of the families that had lost their breadwinner due to the unbearable burden of debt. For miles together, I could see no water.

In Assam and Bihar, I went to share the concern of people whose lives have been dislocated by floods. For miles without end, I could see only water.

Drought and floods are two fundamental problems that continue to bring suffering to our rural population. We need concerted action to deal with these perennial problems.

Our government has already taken some steps to deal with them. We intend to take more steps in the future. We need to insulate our people from the impact of drought by creating local level water security. We have to mobilize our people to come forward to take up the challenge of water conservation and management.

We are committed to increasing public investment in irrigation and addressing the specific problems of each river basin, in an environment and people friendly manner.

Water is a national resource and we have to take an integrated view of our country’s water resources, our needs and our policies and water utilization practices.

We need to ensure the equitable use of scarce water resources. The waters of our sacred rivers have for centuries nurtured our civilization. They are the threads that run through the fabric of our nation. We cannot allow these waters to divide us.

I urge you and all our political leaders to take a national and a holistic view of the challenge of managing our water resources.

Dealing with the problem of water is an important commitment we have made as part of our “New Deal for Rural India.” We have also taken steps to address the problem of availability and access to credit in rural areas.

The “New Deal” that rural India needs must encompass investment in irrigation, credit delivery, health care, availability of electricity, primary education, rural roads and the modernization of the infrastructure for agriculture.

We must increasingly use modern science and technology to address the needs of dry land farming, the diversification of our cropping pattern, micro-irrigation and the quality of our livestock.

Improving rural connectivity and access to information can enrich the farm community. Here, governmental initiative can be multiplied by the effort of private enterprise and community action.

The empowerment of women is an important priority and the education of the girl child is vital to it. Our children are our future. In framing our policies, we must keep the interests of future generations in mind.

The government will pursue social and economic policies that are conducive to the proper growth and development of our children, investing in their education, health and nutrition. A healthy child makes a healthy nation.

Our approach has to be one of seeking faster growth while ensuring that the benefits of growth are more evenly distributed.

Our policies for higher economic growth and modernization will be combined with an emphasis on social justice, communal harmony, rural development, regional balance and concern for the environment.

The concerns of most of our citizens revolve around what we do for agriculture, water, education, health and employment.

We recognize that for the development of the country what we are able to do in the key infrastructure sectors like power, roads, railways, ports and airports is also critical.

However, for government to be able to deliver results, we must reform the functioning of government. We have to make officials accountable — make government more transparent. We have to make public enterprises more efficient.

Citizens increasingly demand governments that are accountable to them. They have a concern both for probity and efficiency in public affairs.

We must also look within our parties — and ourselves — and ask ourselves what is the root cause of the decline in values in public life? How do we reform our public institutions, our political parties and our government at various levels?

When we launched economic reforms over a decade ago, we tried to liberate individual enterprise from the stranglehold of bureaucracy.

We will continue to widen the space available for private enterprise and individual initiative.

But governments cannot be wished away, especially in a developing country like ours where the government has an important role to play. The challenge for economic reform today is to breathe new life into government so that it can play a positive role where it must.

It is a matter of satisfaction today that information technology is enabling us to improve the standard of living of ordinary people even in remote areas.

We will continue to explore ways in which modern technology can improve the lives of ordinary people. We will improve broadband access and enable the required investment in IT infrastructure.

We live in an age where science and technology have become an important determinant of power and wealth.

For our country to attain its due place in the 21st century, it is necessary to integrate science and technology in to all our development processes. The promotion of scientific temper must truly become a massive national movement.

Ours is a vast country in which many states are as big as some countries of the world.

I am concerned about the slow rate of growth of the backward regions, just as I am concerned about the economic distress of the less privileged sections of our society.

We must fight all anti-national and anti-social forces that try to disrupt normal life. Be they terrorists or communal and other such divisive forces. Terrorism is a threat to our normal lives and we must all unite in fighting it.

Violence has never helped in the progress and prosperity of any society. We will fight this menace to civilized existence with determination. There should be no doubts on this score. However, we are willing to talk to any group provided they abjure the path of violence.

Friends, today I want each of you to show the same degree of self-confidence that our freedom fighters showed, when they led our country to freedom, in your encounters with new markets and new opportunities.

We have been an open society. But, in being open to the world, we have not lost our identity as a people. Again, I remind you of what Gandhi taught us.

That our nation must be like a house built on firm foundations, whose windows are wide open to let the winds blow freely in every direction.

“I want the winds from every corner to blow through my house” Gandhi said, “but I refuse to be swept off my feet by any of them.” That has been our attitude to the world, culturally and economically, for centuries. We must continue to adopt that attitude even as we seek to build a more self reliant and modern economy.

This Globalist Document is adapted from Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s speech given, in Hindi, from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the country’s 58th Independence Day, August 15, 2004. For the full text, click here.