As evident from President Ram Nath Kovind’s address to the joint sitting of Parliament on the first day of the Budget session on Thursday, it is not just his political rivals, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also intent on “batting on the front foot” in the run up to the Lok Sabha polls 2019.
In his customary address, a speech the Union Cabinet approves, the President detailed an elaborate report card of the Modi government’s achievements, and hinted that Friday’s Budget could include measures to augment farm incomes.
With speculation that the Budget could announce an income support scheme for farmers, the President said, “Understanding the needs of farmers, the government is seeking to find permanent solutions to their problems.”
The President pointedly announced that the Indian Air Force would soon get the Rafale fighter jets. “After a gap of many decades, the Indian Air Force is preparing to welcome, in the coming months, its new generation ultra-modern fighter aircraft Rafale and strengthen its strike capability,” he said to loud cheers from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members.
The focus of President’s over 8000-word speech was on Modi government’s vision of garib kalyan (welfare of the poor), how its sundry policies and programmes have improved ‘ease of living’ and paved the way for building a “new India”.
“Antyodaya”, or uplifting the poorest, has been the “touchstone” of the government’s work, Kovind said.
The President’s speech was also an attempt to highlight the Modi government’s vision of sabka saath sabka vikas, as it referred to measures taken for doubling farm incomes, empowerment of women, better opportunities for the youth, schemes for specially-abled, or divyaang, reservation for the poor among the general category and statutory status to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), commission.
Kovind said the government accepted the recommendations of the seventh pay commission, implemented its promise of “one rank one pension”, provided health insurance and affordable medicines, and even worked for the betterment of Muslim women by trying to get Parliament to pass a law on triple talaq.
“My government is working hard towards realization of the dreams and aspirations of all the sections,” the President said. He said the government has “created new opportunities for expanding the savings of the middle class” by “decreasing the burden of income tax and keeping rate of inflation under control”. While the speech did not have much on the government’s record in road construction, a ministry that Nitin Gadkari leads, and whose work in expediting road construction has been lauded, the President devoted eight paragraphs on the steps taken to improve the lot of the farmers.
Curbing corruption was a key election plank of the Modi-led BJP in 2014, and the President said, “Demonetisation was a defining moment in the government’s war on corruption and black money”. He said, “This decision struck at the very root of the parallel economy thriving on black money; and the money outside the formal system was brought within the ambit of nation’s economy.”
While there was no direct reference to Modi government’s promise of generating jobs, the President said Rs 7 trillion worth of loans under Mudra scheme were disbursed, which has helped 150 million people to set up business, of which 73 per cent are women.
The President said India’s contribution to the world gross domestic product has increased from 2.6 per cent in 2014 to 3.3 per cent in 2017, and the economy has grown at a healthy rate of 7.3 per cent. Kovind said India was now the second largest manufacturer of mobile phones.
The President detailed the work done under schemes like ‘Swachh Bharat’, Ujjwala, Mudra, housing for all, skill development, Jan Dhan Yojana and several others.
The President said the Modi government’s mission was to build a new India with no place for imperfect, corrupt and inertia-ridden systems.