PM's diktat to Finance Minister

Directive reflects new-found confidence in Manmohan Singh

It was an unusual step that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) took on Friday when it decided to put in the public domain Singh’s directive to Mukherjee. The PMO statement said: “The prime minister has asked the finance ministry to ensure that the next Union Budget adequately and appropriately reflects the priorities and programmes outlined in the President’s address to the joint session of Parliament.”

The terse one-sentence diktat to Pranab Mukherjee, who was the finance minister 25 years ago when Singh was the governor of the RBI taking the former’s orders, has revealed several aspects of the new and confident Singh and the assertiveness of the administration under him.

While on the face of it, the PMO statement did seem innocuous but it was nevertheless obvious soon that it conveyed a lot.

The statement was something not made by any prime minister in the recent past, including Singh himself.

At the most, such instructions were conveyed at the Cabinet level.

Party policy

Or, it was only expected that the budget should reflect the broad contours of policy and programmes rolled out by the government through the President’s speech.

But, the Friday statement was not just that. It was interesting to know that the prime minister’s directive to one of his senior-most ministers came within about 30 hours of the address delivered by Patil.

This showed the urgency of the issues involved. Also, it came a few days after the prime minister himself set the 100-day agenda for the government. Shortly after the directive, came the reconstitution of the Planning Commission whose members were said to have been hand-picked by the economist-politician himself.

“All these show the urgency that Singh attaches to his work and to the tasks ahead of the government. He is clearly the man in a hurry now,” said a Congress leader familiar with the post-May 16 Singh (it was on May 16 that results of the Lok Sabha elections were declared).

Mukherjee is expected to present the budget early next month for which the exercise has just started.

Pro-poor agenda

The President’s address, delivered on June 4 and hailed as a pro-poor agenda, had laid stress on aam aadmi, harped on mechanism for better accountability, inclusive reforms, revamp of higher education policy, expansion of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, new light on rural health schemes, financial sector reforms, review of subsidies, judicial reforms, etc.
By writing to Mukherjee, the prime minister has sought to assert that he is the boss and that it would be his budget.

Following the unexpected mandate which is seen to be for performance of his government, Singh wants to leave no stone unturned in delivering what has been promised through the President’s speech. The Friday directive reflects the new-found confidence and perhaps even an unlikely aggressive Manmohan Singh.

Also, the prime minister has locked Mukherjee to give a budget that is within the policy and framework already laid out. The prime minister, through this, is conveying that the second term of the UPA will be different, not bogged down by the pressures or threats of the allies or the Left parties which had a decisive say in most of the UPA-1 agenda.
“It is clear that the prime minister is looking to stamp his authority through this. Also, it is a cue for the other ministers to take,” said a Congress leader.

Veteran Congressmen caution against reading too much into the diktat.
But then, the prime minister directive, coming after the impressive outing at the hustings, should not be seen in a new light?
DH News Service

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