With Sonia backing, PM vows to build better India (Roundup)

New Delhi, May 22 (IANS) Marking nine years of the UPA government, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday promised to build “an economically resurgent and socially just India” and unveil a transparent regime to do away with corruption.

Speaking at a function at his 7 Race Course Road residence, the prime minister was effusive in his praise of the Congress-led government since taking power in 2004 and sounded confident as he spoke of facing the Lok Sabha election due next year.

With Congress president Sonia Gandhi crediting him with ruling the world’s largest democracy with “great dignity”, Manmohan Singh spoke frankly of the many problems of governance including allegations of corruption hurled at his government.

Alluding to charges of “deliberate malfeasance” and impropriety, he said the United Progressive Alliance government had introduced “more transparent systems for the future” and pledged that “these problems will not arise in the future”.

“The problems with past (coal and spectrum) allocations are being dealt with, as they should be, under the law,” the 80-year-old economist-turned-politician said, reading from a prepared text.

“Allegations of impropriety are being investigated and cases of wrongdoing will be punished.

“But we can claim that the root cause of the problem, which was the perceived non-transparency in the manner of allocation, has been addressed and these problems will not arise in the future.”

Manmohan Singh released the UPA government’s report card — “Report to the People 2012-13” — on the occasion, ceremonially handing over a copy to Gandhi.

Returning to the theme of corruption, Manmohan Singh said good governance includes “freedom from delays and harassment which invariably breed graft and corruption and have to be got rid of.

“Finally, it includes elimination of corruption in the procurement and allocation (and) decisions of government.”

But more than Manmohan Singh, leaders from the Congress reacted more to Sonia Gandhi, who spoke next, as she hit out at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and said the UPA government had nothing to be ashamed of.

“This is an appropriate moment to celebrate,” she said in a charged tone, drawing the first of many rounds of applause from MPs, chief ministers and party veterans.

She said that under Manmohan Singh’s leadership, governance was subject to “strict transparency and accountability.

“But even as I say this,” she went on, “I cannot hide my deep sense of disappointment at the way parliament has been disrupted by the principal opposition party.”

She accused the BJP of “obstructionist approach” and simultaneously made a “fervent appeal” to the opposition to help pass the Food Security Bill and the Land Acquisition Bill.

Besides Congress leaders such as P. Chidambaram, A.K. Antony and Rahul Gandhi, the dias was occupied by Sharad Pawar (NCP), Lalu Prasad (RJD), Ram Vilas Pasan (LJP), Farooq Abdullah (NC) and Badruddin Ajmal (AIUDF).

Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati, both of whom support the UPA, were absent.

Manmohan Singh asserted that nine years of UPA rule had led to better economic and inclusive growth, improved governance and good relations with “a changing and challenging world”.

“We have journeyed many miles, though we know we have more miles ahead,” he said in his characteristic style.

He admitted that the economy slowed down last year but said it was a temporary phenomenon. He blamed some of it on external factors “over which we have no control”.

“Taking a longer term view, we see that India was among the fastest growing economies of the world with an average growth rate of 8 percent in the last nine years, including the years of slower growth.”

Unfortunately, he said, public debate “often focusses less on what has been achieved and more on whatever is still to be done”.

Saying good governance includes assurance of safety and security to every citizen specially women, he warned that weaknesses “erode trust and faith in government”. “We cannot, as a people, afford such an outcome.”

Manmohan Singh added that the civil society and free press “put pressure for early and decisive action”, at times leading to “impatience and hasty judgement”.

He said the UPA government had helped India achieve a key place in international arena and that “we have been able to manage some very difficult challenges” in the country’s immediate neighbourhood.

“The central message is that the UPA government is working to realise your dream of an economically resurgent and socially just India.”

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