In an address that laid emphasis on good governance, probity in public life and economic development of the underprivileged and minorities, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday unveiled seven priority sectors for focused attention, called for a code of conduct for all political parties and reaffirmed government's resolve to carry forward the composite dialogue process with Pakistan.
Speaking from the ramparts of Red Fort after unfurling the tricolour, the prime minister vowed to fight the menace of terrorism and expressed his government's willingness to hold talks with any group provided they abjure the path of violence.
In the backdrop of the controversy over 'tainted ministers', he said: "The question of ethics in public life has repeatedly agitated our people...the time has come for us to consensually evolve a code of conduct for all political parties, a code of ethics for all individuals in public life and a code of best practices for the government at all levels."
Observing that peace and prosperity in India's neighbourhood is an "important priority" for the government, Singh said: "We are in favour of a purposive bilateral dialogue with Pakistan to resolve all outstanding issues. Of course, trends of cross-border terrorism and violence make our task more difficult and complex."
The prime minister said: "It is our intention to carry forward with firm resolve and sincerity the composite dialogue process with Pakistan. The edifice of peace that we wish to build must stand on the twin pillars of mutual trust and confidence."
With regard to China, Singh said the government is committed to strengthening and expanding relations with Beijing. "We shall carry forward the process of discussion to resolve the boundary question with political vision and a practical
The prime minister also outlined a seven-pronged agriculture and employment-oriented strategy for higher economic growth.
He identified as priority sectors agriculture, water, education, health care, employment, urban renewal and infrastructure.
Ruling United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi, several Union ministers, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, Bharatiya Janata Party leaders Lal Kishenchand Advani and Jaswant Singh, diplomats and top defence personnel were present as Singh spoke from behind a bullet-proof shield.
Doing some plain-speaking, Singh talked about people's concerns about probity and efficiency in public affairs and said to enable the government to deliver results "we must reform" its functioning.
"We have to make officials accountable -- make government more transparent. We have to make public enterprises more efficient," he said.
Voicing anguish over the decline in values in public life, the prime minister said: "We must also look within our parties and ourselves and ask ourselves what is the root cause" for it. "How do we reform our public institutions, our political
parties, and our government at various levels?"
The empowerment of women, he said, is an important priority and education for the girl child is vital. "In framing our policies, we must keep the interests of future generations in mind. A healthy child makes a healthy nation," the prime minister said
Describing militancy-hit northeast and Jammu and Kashmir as the most beautiful regions of the country, Singh said people want peace and stability that could enable them to lead safe, secure and normal lives.
"We must fight all anti-national and anti-social forces that try to disrupt normal life. Be they terrorists or communal and other such divisive forces."