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UPA needs course correction: Aiyar

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Mani Shankar Aiyar
Mani Shankar Aiyar

Says disproportionate benefit going to the classes

In an interview marking the completion of three years in office by the United Progressive Alliance Government, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Minister for Panchayati Raj, Sports and the North East, warns that "alarm bells should be rung, they absolutely should be rung whether they're ringing or not." This is because "there is a disproportionate benefit of the 9.2 per cent [growth] going to the classes"; and if course correction is not undertaken, the Congress-led UPA Government can lose the support of the `aam admi.' As Mr. Aiyar puts it: "I fear that a government that is attempting to have an economic policy for the `aam admi' may not get the aam admi's endorsement." When asked for confirmation that he was saying that if the UPA did not correct course at this mid point in its five-year term it could end up losing the support of the `aam admi,' the Minister replied "absolutely."

In an interview for the CNN-IBN programme "Devil's Advocate," Mr. Aiyar was first questioned about a speech he made in April to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in which he said: "The masses determine who will form the Government [but] the classes determine what that Government will do."

Asked if this meant that government policies were not always in the best or complete interest of the majority of the people of India, he replied: "Sometimes. I have no doubt about it at all." Asked further if he was suggesting that the Government's policies were unduly influenced by elite interests as represented by institutions like the CII, he said: "Yes and I was also suggesting that if we are aware of this, then we can always take countervailing action... industry interests need not necessarily be the country's interest."

When "Devil's Advocate" asked Mr. Aiyar if this meant that despite all the rhetoric the `aam admi' is not always at the centre of the Government's policies, the Minister responded: "We must resist the tendency to look at the interest of the classes and instead take into account the interest of the masses." Some excerpts from the interview:

Karan Thapar: Are you also suggesting that the `aam admi,' despite the rhetoric, is not always at the centre of the Government's policies?

Mani Shankar Aiyar: He ought to be. And the whole point of what I was trying to say was that we ought to constantly remind ourselves of the Common Minimum Programme's commitment to the `aam admi.' And if there were a conflict between the interest of the growth rate and the interest of the `aam admi,' we must take both into account before we take a decision... My point was to underline that there can be a conflict between the demands of growth and the demands of equity. Not always but this is quite often so. If we are framing an economic policy for a democratic polity, as we have to, then we must resist the tendency to look at the interest of the classes and instead take into account the interest of the masses... [Otherwise] the priorities could get misplaced, is my point... Actually, we ought to be all the time conscious of the demands of the masses.

The Minister went on to explain: "There's a disproportionate benefit of the 9.2 per cent [growth] going to the classes. What I want to emphasise is not that there's no benefit going to the masses but that it need to be much more consciously directed there."

When "Devil's Advocate" asked the Minister about the consequences he feared would follow if corrective remedial action was not taken, he responded that "in Cabinet and out of Cabinet I have been stressing the need for us to constantly keep this course correction in mind." Mr. Aiyar said his views had received "a very sympathetic response" from the Prime Minister who "absolutely" understood that the time for course correction had come.

What is it that you fear might happen if correct remedial action is not taken?

I fear that a Government that is attempting to have an economic policy for the `aam admi' may not get the aam admi's endorsement... It's our job to understand this at the midpoint, because that's where we are, and to take course correction. And it's the job of any responsible Cabinet Minister to not only take into account what the [Government's] achievements are but also what further needs to be done.

You're saying something very important. If at midpoint you don't take course correction you could end up losing the support of the `aam admi'?

Absolutely.

So the Government is coming close to losing the support of the `aam admi' in whose name it actually exists?

We've got another two years and there is time enough to take certain special measures.

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