As the first Indian Prime Minister to win re-election after serving a full five-year term since Nehru, Manmohan Singh struck a confident political tone in his Independence Day address to the nation on Saturday, openly advertising the inclusive goals and secular credentials of his government and unabashedly proclaiming his intention to do right by India’s minority communities.

With the spectre of drought looming, the Prime Minister also warned hoarders and black-marketers of food and sought to assure farmers that they would not be left in the lurch. “In view of the deficiency in the monsoons, we have postponed the date for repayment of bank loans of our farmers. We are also giving additional support to farmers for payment of interest on short term crop loans”, he said. “All efforts will be made to control the rising prices of foodgrains, pulses and other goods of daily use.”

Dr. Singh said that by choosing “a political arrangement which is secular and which includes many varied strands of thought” the electorate had “favoured a politics that integrates our country and our society” and voted for “a democratic way of life which provides for resolution of differences through debate and discussion”.

The government, he said, had received a mandate for “starting a new era of cooperation and harmony in our national life”. In line with this theme, the Prime Minister frontally challenged the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s argument against special schemes for promoting the welfare of Muslims and other minorities. “We do not subscribe to the view that to take special care of the deprived sections of the society amounts to appeasement. In fact, we believe that it is our solemn duty to do so”.

Two years ago, Dr. Singh was attacked by the BJP for suggesting minority welfare should be given fiscal priority. But with Verdict 2009 under his belt, he said on Saturday that his government “will give its full attention to the well being of our ? minority communities”. Existing schemes for their welfare will be taken forward, he promised. “The funds for the special schemes taken up for the development of minority concentration districts have been enhanced quite substantially this year”.

At the macroeconomic level, the Prime Minister said restoring the growth rate to 9 per cent “is the greatest challenge we face”. The government would make every effort to meet this challenge by increasing capital inflows, encouraging exports and increasing public investment and expenditure. Holding out the promise of recovery by the end of the year, Dr. Singh nevertheless said everyone would have to “bear with the fall out of the global economic slowdown”. He appealed, in particular, to businessmen and industrialists to “fulfill their social obligations fully”.

Though the rescheduling of agricultural loans is a policy decision that comes into effect once a particular district is declared drought affected, the Prime Minister’s announcement is likely to provide succor to lakhs of farmers facing the prospect of ruined crops this season.

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