An Offstumped exclusive for Blogger News Network (BNN) courtesy Shri Sudheendra Kulkarni – the full text of speech by Shri L.K. Advani, Leader of the Opposition and the BJP led NDA’s candidate for next Prime Minister of India,  at the CII National Conference and Annual Session 2008 in New Delhi on 30th April 2008.

The speech is titled “Building INDIA – Making Growth Inclusive and Sustainable”

Shri Sunil Mittal, President of the CII; Shri K.V. Kamath, President-Elect of the CII; captains of Indian industry and business, ladies and gentlemen, It gives me great pleasure to be once again with you at an annual conference of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII). Over the years, the annual session of the CII has become an important platform for people from the political and business fields to meet together and exchange ideas on issues of common interest concerning the nation. Yesterday, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh addressed your session.  He sought political consensus and help from the industry to fight inflation. “For government to be more productive, more creative and more effective,” he said, “we would need greater political consensus and some nationally accepted norms of governance in our Parliamentary system.” As a rhetorical statement, there is nothing wrong in what the Prime Minister said. However, apart from telling what the industry should do and what the Opposition should do, I wish he had also told the nation what his government is doing to bring the prices of essential commodities down. For people want to see results on the ground. After all, sound management of the economy is a core responsibility of the central government.  The nation would also have liked to know from the Prime Minister what “nationally accepted norms of governance” the government is following on certain crucial issues. If a minister thinks that it is a part of his duty to seek favours from another ministry for businesses owned by his son, and if the Prime Minister chooses not to make a statement on the issue in Parliament, it is my understanding that neither the minister nor the Prime Minister is following a “nationally accepted norm of governance in a parliamentary democracy.” I hope nobody switches off the lights for my having made this remark. Corruption is a foe of pro-poor growth I have made this point because it is closely linked to the theme of my address today — ‘Building India : Making Growth Inclusive and Sustainable’. It is my firm belief that corruption is one of the biggest obstacles to inclusive and sustainable growth. Indeed, corruption in governance, especially corruption in high places, results in malignant growth. It leads to moral degradation of politics and society, which cannot be measured in quantifiable terms. The case of the minister seeking gas supply at concessional rates for businesses run by his sons is only a tip of the iceberg. Many representatives of the business community tell me privately how the UPA government stinks with corruption, how several ministers run their ministries as their own fiefdoms with no command or control, and how this is undermining India’s development drive and India’s international reputation. Friends, today is the last day of April. Next month, the Congress-led UPA government will complete four years in office and enter the fifth and final year of its tenure. It is for different sections of society, including the business community, to judge the performance of the UPA government. However, what I have observed during my travels around the country is that the people are looking for change, for a better alternative. And I can say with full confidence that, with each passing month, it is the BJP and the BJP-led NDA that will emerge as the real alternative. NDA’s proud record of uncaging ‘India – the Caged Tiger’ My party and our alliance, under the leadership of Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, contributed to India’s growth and development between 1998 and 2004. We shall do so yet again, if the people give us the mandate in the next Lok Sabha elections. Let me give a few snapshots of how our government not only accelerated India’s economic growth but also tried to make it more inclusive. 

  • The NDA government unveiled the most ambitious highway construction programme in the history of independent India. This has transformed India’s economy like no other single infrastructure project ever has. Earlier, India had very few construction companies capable of executing world-class highway building projects. I am told that, because of the Golden Quadrilateral project, their number has increased dramatically.

 

  • Our government embarked upon the most ambitious rural roads development programme in the history of independent India. The number of direct and indirect jobs created by the highway and rural roads projects is, indeed, staggering. Moreover, these above measures contributed to greater physical connectivity, and thus literally paving the way for a more nationally integrated economic system.

 

  • Similarly, our government brought about the most far-reaching reforms in the telecom sector, without which the current spectacular expansion in telecom connectivity would not have been possible. I am sure both your outgoing president and incoming president will vouch for this. Shri Kamath was a member of the group that formulated the New Telecom Policy 1999, and Shri Sunil Mittal has practically demonstrated how the new policy unshackled the Indian private sector to bring mobile phones within the reach of the common man.

 

  • Our government provided the most crucial policy incentives to the information technology sector and, way back in 2000, set a target of $ 50 billion for software and services exports by 2008. I am happy that our IT companies are close to reaching the target, in spite of adverse international conditions recently. What is especially heartening, and what testifies to the inclusive nature of this growth, is that IT has become an essential part of the dream of young Indians belonging to all classes, castes, creeds and regions of India.

 

  • Our government not only enshrined elementary education as a Fundamental Right in the Constitution but also, in order to operationalise that right, unveiled the world’s largest elementary education programme in the form of ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan’.

 

  • Our government initiated the world’s largest food security programme in the form of ‘Annapoorna Anna Yojana’, under which over one crore poorest families started to get a certain amount of rice and wheat at highly subsidized rates.

 Yes, we could not achieve all that we wanted to. The progress was slow in some areas. We also made mistakes. But the most important feature about our six years in office is that we made India stronger. We made India stronger in security, stronger in development and stronger, above all, in self-perception.  I remember that The Economist, the influential British magazine had carried a survey of India in the early 1990s whose title was ‘India, the Caged Tiger’. I had declared in one of our party conferences at the time that, if we came to power at the Centre, we would uncage this Tiger called India. The Tiger was indeed uncaged during the six-year rule of the NDA.  It is not my claim that we alone accomplished this. The earlier government of Narasimha Rao also contributed to the unleashing of India’s development potential. In general, we in the BJP have been far more generous and open in acknowledging the Congress party’s positive contribution to nation-building than the other way around. But that does not bother us. The Congress might think that only one family has contributed predominantly to India’s progress, but the people of this country know — and they fondly remember it even now — the path-breaking accomplishments and initiatives of the Vajpayee government. Govt’s performance must match the ambition of India’s youth I have made this reference to the NDA government’s record in governance just to drive home the point that we have the experience, we have the commitment, we have the vision and we have the determination to strengthen India much more when we get the opportunity to run the government again. If people give us the mandate again, our government will be far more ambitious and far more result-oriented than any government has been until now. In saying this, I am not in any way belittling the achievements of the previous governments. Rather, the soaring ambitions, aspirations and expectations of the Indian people, especially India’s youth, make it obligatory on any government to work with matching ambition. Anything less would mean letting down our people, letting down our youth. By ambition, I mean, first of all, expansion of the prosperity net to include all those sections of our society who have so far remained either deprived of the fruits of India’s economic growth or received only some crumbs. What India has witnessed in recent years is growth with widening inequalities. A very responsible person in our public life, a former governor of the Reserve Bank of India — no less —, recently stated that the earnings of 20 richest Indians exceeds those of 30 crore poor Indians. If this is true, it is shocking. Lopsided growth, however high its rate, can never be sustainable. This is the reason why the exclusive talk of 9 per cent GDP growth rate by some people in government or in the business community does not enthuse the general public.  Forbes magazine, which is famous for tracking the wealth of businessmen around the world, has predicted that India will have more billionaires than any other country in the world by 2017. Frankly, this does not gladden me at all. Rather, I would be delighted if, ten years from now, we are able to eliminate abject poverty from India. Urgent need for rejuvenation of Rural India  Therefore, it will be our endeavour — indeed, it will be our mission — to ensure that India makes the deepest dent in poverty than in any other previous five-year period in independent India’s history. For this, the most important policy reorientation required is that which would ensure redirection of investment — both public and private — into agriculture and the rural economy. India needs massive new investments in irrigation and water management; soil enrichment; rural infrastructure development in areas such as power, markets, roads, storage and processing facilities; animal husbandry, extension and other support services and reaching of appropriate scientific and technological knowledge. If we want inclusive and sustainable growth, there is simply no substitute to massive re-industrialisation and rejuvenation of India’s countryside, so that people get gainful employment, good living conditions and wealth-generation possibilities in their own villages and in the vicinity.  But we cannot wait until that happens. The need to protect the poor and needy is now. Therefore, it will be our endeavour to see that every poor family in India is provided with adequate food at subsided rates, so that they are well-protected at least in their basic nutritional needs. We shall also see how basic social security can be reached to the entire needy section of our society.  More schools and more health care centres will be built or renovated than during any comparable period in the past. So will more houses for the common people in both rural and urban areas. Some of you might ask, “Does this mean MORE POPULISM IN A BJP-LED GOVERNMENT?” My frank answer would be: “If by populism is meant efficient, corruption-free and well-targeted delivery of the most basic needs to the most needy sections of our society, yes, we will indeed practice more of such poverty-reducing populism. I consider this to be our moral and Constitutional duty. Money well spent on such missions is indeed investment in India’s future.” ‘Golden Quadrilateral in education and healthcare’ Another area that will receive our highest attention is massive expansion of opportunities in all spheres of education, which I believe is critical for making economic growth both inclusive and sustainable. If we look at the educational landscape in India today, we cannot but notice that while the license-quota-permit raj may have made a partial or full exit from various sectors of the economy, it is alive and kicking in the education sector — especially in higher and professional education. Currently, as one study has noted, “the education system remains suspended between over-regulation by the state on the one hand, and a discretionary privatization that is unable to mobilize private capital in productive ways”. First, the various regulatory bodies in the field of education have not only become corrupt and highly bureaucratic, but they have indeed constrained the growth of educational infrastructure in India. We shall employ the sharp knife of reform to remove every layer of control that is unnecessary, while strengthening every regulation that enhances quality and accountability.  Second, capacity creation, in which the private sector and philanthropic institutions will need to share the major economic cost of subsequent expansion. If successfully implemented, these measures will ensure that our talented girls and boys are able to have adequate and quality seats in engineering, medicine, management, agriculture, veterinary sciences and scores of new areas that have sprung up in recent years.  Finally, in order to make higher and professional education inclusive, we shall increase the number of scholarships and attractive educational loans by such an order of magnitude that no deserving student is deprived of an opportunity to have an education of his or her choice. I believe that democratisation of education is the key to democratization of social and economic growth. It will, in short, be our resolve to have the equivalent of the ‘Golden Quadrilateral’ in education and healthcare — that is, building a new Highway to take our children and youth towards the goal of Sushikshit Bharat, Swastha Bharat and Samruddha Bharat.  Enhancing employability of India’s youth Friends, recent experience has shown that mere increase in the number of degree or diploma holders is not enough for meeting the needs of double-digit GDP economic growth. A disconcerting aspect of higher and professional education in India is the mismatch between the needs of our rapidly growing economy and the employability of our educated youth. NASSCOM has estimated that only about 25% of fresh graduates in India are employable. This situation must be changed.  Recently, I had invited a group of experts from Bangalore to discuss this issue with senior leaders of our party. One of the experts whose views and suggestions impressed me deeply was Manish Sabharwal, who himself runs a skill development and employment placement company. I was particularly struck by his persuasive demonstration of how some of our existing laws severely hinder, rather than help, skill development and employment generation.   Cynics might ask: “But is inclusive economic growth — that is, growth with poverty elimination — at all possible?” My party believes that it is indeed possible.  How? Good Governance: Key to inclusive growth  Let me present three broad ideas. Firstly, and this is the most important requirement, it is possible if we can ensure Good Governance at all levels. We shall demonstrate our commitment to this by considerably raising the standards of governance at the Centre, which states and lower levels can then emulate. Simply by adopting Good Governance reforms, and thereby reducing inefficiency and corruption, it is possible to achieve additional 2-3 percentage points of GDP growth.  But Good Governance will not only boost GDP growth. It will also boost inclusive and sustainable growth since money will be well-spent to benefit the intended beneficiaries. Apart from others, I seek ideas and suggestions from the business community on how to speed up Good Governance reforms. I assure you that you will not find in us a lack of political will. As an example of political will, let me tell you that the BJP government in Gujarat, headed by Shri Narendra Modi, has been implementing a revolutionary slum redevelopment plan which will make Gujarat the first state in India completely slum-free. The second requirement is security. We have seen how some of the poorest and most backward areas in India are those that have suffered from threats to India’s internal security. There cannot be sustained economic development in places marred by terrorism, naxalite violence, organised crime and poor law and order. As you know, the BJP has always placed security high on its agenda of priorities. We shall be uncompromising on this score. Resources are no longer a constraint The third requirement is, of course, resources. Fortunately, the financial resources available to the government have been rising rapidly. Our tax collection has been exceeding expectations. Our tax-to-GDP ratio is steadily improving. This is no small measure due to the bold initiatives, such as the Tax Information Net, that my colleague Shri Jaswant Singh took in the finance ministry.  I believe that there is still enormous scope for achieving further increases in tax revenue through better compliance, lower taxes and elimination of corruption in the tax administration system. In addition to increased buoyancy in India’s tax revenue, India’s savings rate is also steadily rising. Add to this the more than $300 billion of forex reserves, and we can see that resources will not be a constraint for undertaking an ambitious mission of inclusive double-digit GDP growth on a sustainable and long-term basis. If we need any expert ideas on how to raise resources, I am sure that we can count on the advice of the CII’s new president and India’s ace banker, Shri K.V. Kamath, and other geniuses in the field. If the increased resources available with the government, combined with the enormous new avenues for resource generation that the private sector has been tapping of late, are judiciously channeled in priority areas such as agriculture, irrigation, agro-processing, physical and social infrastructure in both rural and urban areas, energy security, etc., India will write a growth story that is truly unprecedented in its history.  You will agree that this will also unleash the potential for new business opportunities — small, medium and big — across new geographical areas and integrating new hitherto-deprived social groups. Thus, India is on the cusp of the greatest, and most inclusive, entrepreneurial revolution in its history. It will be my party’s endeavour to making this revolution happen. Friends, this in brief is my perspective on achieving inclusive and sustainable economic growth for building a stronger India. I thank CII for inviting me to share my views and I thank you for giving me a patient hearing. Thank you. 

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