India outlines political programme

India's new government has vowed to fight religious hatred, repeal a tough anti-terrorism law, and pursue the privatisation of state industry without harming millions of poor.

    A.P.J. Abdul Kalam (R) has a largely ceremonial role

    In his

    first address to the new Parliament on Monday, President 

    A.P.J. Abdul Kalam delivered a speech which was drafted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's administration.

    Kalam is the constitutional

    head of state but has little role in the running of government.

    Singh became prime

    minister last month after his Congress Party ousted the Hindu nationalist-led

    government of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in April-May

    elections.

    Kalam called the rise of religious divisions "a matter of serious

    concern" and said it had poisoned Indian society, "leading to the outbreak

    of riots, the most gruesome face of which was witnessed recently in

    Gujarat".

    Hindu-Muslim riots in the western state of Gujarat in 2002 killed more

    than 1000 people, mostly Muslims. The local government, run by Vajpayee's

    Bharatia Janata Party, was accused by many residents of looking the other

    way.

    Rural poor

    "My government is determined to combat such forces," Kalam told a joint

    sitting of both houses of Parliament - the Lok Sabha, or lower house, and the

    Rajya Sabha, or upper house. Ruling coalition members repeatedly applauded

    and thumped their desks.

    "The outcome of these elections is indicative of people's yearning for

    inclusiveness - economic, social and cultural - and their rejection of the

    forces of divisiveness and intolerance"

    A.P.J. Abdul Kalam,
    Indian president

    Vajpayee's government is credited with giving India's economy one of the

    fastest growth rates in the world, but the boom bypassed tens of millions of

    people who live in rural villages and urban shanties

    . They voted Vajpayee out.

    "The outcome of these elections is indicative of people's yearning for

    inclusiveness - economic, social and cultural - and their rejection of the

    forces of divisiveness and intolerance," Kalam said. "The verdict is for

    establishing the rule of law and repairing our secular fabric."

    While more than 80% of Indians are Hindu, their secular

    constitution provides equality for all religions and castes. Muslims are the

    largest minority, comprising about 12% of the population.

    Kalam also said the government was "concerned about the misuse... in the

    recent past" of the tough Prevention of Terrorism Act passed by Vajpayee's

    government.

    Anti-terrorism law

    Critics said the law was often used to target Muslims or poor

    people described as Maoist rebels or their supporters.

    "While there can be no compromise on the fight against terrorism, the

    government is of the view that existing laws could adequately handle the

    menace of terrorism," Kalam said. "The government, therefore, proposes to

    repeal POTA."

    Singh is credited with starting
    India's economic reforms

    Kalam promised the government would maintain 7% to 8%

    economic growth, encourage foreign investment and increase employment.

    But the government's compulsions were apparent in the address, which

    sought to please the government's leftist allies by subsidising the poor and

    protecting workers and farmers.

    The government has promised to sell off state

    enterprises that lose money, but not profit-making ones.

    Kalam also promised the government would continue peace efforts with

    longtime rival Pakistan and strengthen ties with the United States.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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