New Delhi : Under attack for promoting an economy that was viewed as pro-rich, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pledged on the 3rd anniversary of his government that he believed firmly in "inclusive growth" that will take into account the needs of the poor and marginalized sections of society.
Speaking at a dinner for cabinet colleagues and coalition allies at his residence to mark the start of the fourth year of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, the prime minister sought to deny growing impression that his administration leaned towards the rich.
As he issued a lengthy report card of his government's achievements since it took power on this day in 2004, Manmohan Singh referred to his government's intention to improve the life of all Indians.
"Our government recognizes that high national income growth alone does not address the challenge of employment promotion, poverty reduction and balanced regional development," he said in politically sensitive remarks. "Nor does growth in itself improve human development."
The prime minister underlined that all the major initiatives of the government, in agriculture and rural development, in industry and urban development, in infrastructure and services, in education and health care, sought to promote "inclusive growth".
His remarks evoked praise from UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who said his government has ensured global admiration for India's growth and also given a major push to the agrarian economy on which 70 percent of the country's population depends.
"We have given a major push to agriculture policy and given priority to the rural economy," she said, adding: "We have also ignited the spirit of secularism that has been India's rich heritage."
Manmohan Singh admitted that prices of essential goods had risen in recent times – one of the main criticisms against a government that had promised to work for the common man when it began to rule India.
"We have been faced with galloping demand for many products and this has resulted in inflation becoming a cause for concern, particularly in the case of some essential commodities," he said. "This has been compounded by a shortfall in production of these commodities."
The prime minister said the government had intervened speedily so that "the poor and vulnerable sections of society do not suffer unduly".
"We have made arrangements to augment supplies wherever feasible and hope to keep prices in check. All reasonable measures will be adopted to accelerate the tempo of agricultural production and to strengthen the public distribution system."
Manmohan Singh's comments come at a time when his own colleagues in the Congress party are beginning to attack economic policies that they say are not promoting the promised egalitarian growth.
Panchayati Raj Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar has gone public with the criticism. But many others are privately letting it known that they are concerned about the direction of the economy.
Manmohan Singh asserted that the policy agenda of the multi-party UPA and its Left allies "has been substantially implemented".
He added: "It is my sincere hope and firm belief that by the end of our tenure in government we would have delivered more than we had promised."
Speaking about the human face of his reforms, Manmohan Singh – the original author of India's radical economic liberalization – said his administration had gone for higher growth rates while ensuring "employment generation, poverty reduction and human development".
To rebut criticism that higher rates of investment and growth had only helped the moneyed class, he argued that they had actually helped generate employment and reduce poverty.
The prime minister identified the key components of the "inclusive growth" strategy had been to boost investment in rural areas, in rural infrastructure and agriculture; hike credit availability to farmers and offer them good prices for their crops; increase rural employment, providing a unique social safety net; increase public spending on education and health care; improve the quality of life for the urban poor; and ensure the development of backward regions and districts.
Manmohan Singh made no reference to farmers' suicides but said the "farming community has certainly benefited from better prices for their produce. This too is an aspect of making growth more inclusive".
"Inclusive growth also means empowering the disadvantaged. This we have done through a variety of legislative interventions," he said, referring to tribals, Dalits and minorities who he said had benefited from the legislations.