Sunday, 9 August 2020

A Peep Into 30-Day Modi Govt

Updated: July 12, 2014 4:30 am

Thirty days are too short a period to assess the success and failure of even a hands-on and 18-hour working Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The problems of a country like India with a federal structure and multi-cultural society cannot be resolved and solutions found through push-button way. One has to concede that Modi inherited a mess, a policy-paralysed government that was vitiated by rampant corruption and run through remote control. Modi does not have a magic wand and cannot resolve everything by simply saying abracadabra.

Nevertheless, a spate of assessments has been done and they are more or less balanced. But rise in prices of vegetables, fruits and other items and above all the unexpected rise of 14 per cent in railway fares have both disappointed people and angered many. Some are plainly disappointed. They were euphoric at Narendra Modi becoming Prime Minister but doubts now nag them. And ‘some’ in a population of 1.25 billion means a formidable number. Others are darkly predicting that life would not improve, achhe din nahin kharab din aanewale hain. The left-intellectuals-controlled media has been in top gear highlighting the resentment.

But the fact is that in these 30 days Modi has been, quite rightly, laying the foundation for building on a government that would help him meet all his promises and usher in achhe din. True controversies have surrounded the move to nudge out UPA-appointees including governors and the most unexpected rise in railway fares. The long outages in the Capital and water shortage stoked people’s anger and disappointment further.

The most crucial problem with this government is that it does not have, as yet, a good communicator who can explain things and counter negative reactions. The BJP’s most eloquent communicator is Modi. He showed it in the way he convinced people, even those who were traditionally opposed to saffron party, of the virtues of the government he would run.

But now when he is Prime Minister he cannot come on the television, now and then, to explain every move and policy of his government. In raising railway fares substantially, Modi has signalled that for Indians the journey to ‘achhe din’ will probably involve surviving a brief period of pain, during which the extra revenue collected would be used to improving stations, toilets and trains. Similarly in the case of removal of governors, an explanation would have helped.

Fortuitously Modi still has a huge reservoir of goodwill and majority of people are just waiting for dividends to start flowing in after a few months of the implementation of Modi’s policies. He has the momentum and decisiveness to overcome the indolence and culture of corruption that Central governments have represented.

They know that after arduous criss-crossing of the country during which he hardly slept four to five hours and addressed 400 plus rallies, he landed at his chamber in South Block. He started working, and moré significantly made others to work to his standards, immediately after swearing-in ceremony in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan on May 26.

His out-of-box thinking to invite for the swearing-in ceremony heads of all SAARC country members was a brilliant diplomatic move which impressed even his critics. He had shown his confidence in himself and taken decisions solely. It also showed his natural instinct for functionality. The move signalled his aim to re-establish India’s leadership of SAARC and of making a niche for the country in the geopolitics of the region. The one-to-one talk with the Nawaz Sharif and other heads augured well for relations in the future.


Controversies


Railway Fare Increase

A hike in the fares was overdue for a long time. The condition of stations, railway bogies and overall services remind one of trains on suburban lines in some small African states.

The uniformed attendants, even in AC First are a rarity. They do whatever fancies them. The state of toilets is just like the ones in a sub-judges court building. The food, once the pride of railways, is indigestible. But prices have kept ahead of inflation. But to revamp the services and condition of trains and stations money is needed. It could come only by raising rail fares.

The government did exactly that. But all this was done without explaining all this to the people. They should have been explained the urgent need for hiking the fares. Even now the government should tell people how the additional revenue would be used for ultimately providing comfort to them. Indians are open to an explanation.

Cancellation of Japan Visit

On the surface, no wrong impact is visible. But the Japanese are sensitive. Moreover, it takes a series of meetings between senior officials, visits by SPG and preparation of the agenda. Its all time-consuming and a difficult and complex process.

Nudging Out Governors

Much has been written on this. It was Janata Party way back in 1977 that started the practice by sacking all Indira Gandhi appointees. The UPA 1 followed it up and sacked Governors appointed by the NDA.

Why then so much hullabaloo now? Because the Congress does not have much else to agitate or feels Modi believes in fair play, so he would heed the agitation? We all know every new party that comes to power is under pressure to get sinecures like the gubernatorial posts for veterans. The BJP is too under similar pressure.

A couple of them have resigned, but those who don’t might be transferred to places like Tripura, Meghalaya and such like. One can’t fight the government. But Modi who believes in taking care of interests of India could set a wonderful precedent by choosing a few meritorious persons of integrity whose actions would be above board.            (VD)


The serious business of governance and the daunting multi-challenges to salvage the country from policy paralysis, curbing corruption, getting money stashed in foreign banks back, salvaging the country from financial doldrums, building infrastructure rapidly, re-making India a favoured destination for business and investments, fortifying defence, encouraging manufacturing of defence equipment indigenously and above all creating a work culture, a tough tall order, were already in the In-Tray.

Having conducted a Presidential-style of campaign and then acting as CEO rather than a politician sitting in South Block, the astute Modi has his finger on the pulse of the people. He knows that the young and the middle class, his vote bank, expect push-button results. And he is under constant watch. He does not have the leisure of time or for relaxation. He seemingly does not want them either.

Nothing radical change is felt, as yet, although the hope in him has not faded, whatsoever the intellectual media and political analysts might say. He has initiated measures and policies which would slowly but surely bring results that would fulfil many of his promises. A country which continued to slide down in all aspects for a decade cannot be put on a fast track to be amongst the developed countries in 30 days.

He has moved in multi-directions. The streamlining and tuning of the bureaucracy, one of his top priorities, has started showing results. In the direct interaction with the secretaries—the first such practise—Modi issued a 11-poinht ‘to-do’ list with the hope of bringing in a new work culture in the government. India’s babudom was rated 12th worst among 12 Asian countries for more than a decade by the Hong Kong-based Political & Economic Risk Consultancy. But now the golf-loving secretaries who used to have leisurely lunches are now in office by 9am and stay until a file marked for the day has been dealt with. Modi has given them autonomy to decide on their own and inform about the outlay and the completion date of each project. But if they falter they know what would happen to them.

The ministers too are following the same work culture. No minister is, until now, seen lunching or dining in a hotel, club or restaurant. Their foreign junkets have been cut down too. They have to inform the PMO 15 days before departure about the objective of the visit, expenses involved and on coming back, give a report on what they achieved and how much they spent.


A Few Plusses


 

 

■             The toning up of the bureaucracy and moulding it to be the most effective arm of the government. From the 12th worst in Asia, it could be the best.

■             The control on the foreign visits of ministers and bureaucrats. Apart from saving foreign exchange and time which they could utilise better in India, it sends the message that the Prime Minister means business.

■             The underlying message is perform or perish. If all perform, achhe din won’t be far.

■             The stress on hygiene is most important. But no previous prime minister paid any attention to this most important issue. The orders are that all toilets in government departments must be clean apart from other areas of the building, This apart from keeping a healthy environment makes workers enjoy working in such ambience. And work better and more.

■             The fresh initiative to strengthen SAARC will pay dividends in the long run and establish India’s leadership. And it would halt the increasing influence of China in the region. The bilateral trade would increase while India strengthens its forces in Arunachal and the North-East.

■             By accepting President Obama’s invite for a meeting, Modi has shown he nurses no grudge against denial of visa to him. For him India’s interest are more important than his own.

■             The prime minister’s conduct and policies have raised the stature of the country and it is being taken seriously once again.

■             The inflow of investments is expected to restart post-PM’s visits to Tokyo and Washington.        (VD)


These rules would not only make ministers attuned to their work but turn India’s bureaucracy into one of the best in the world. And if the babus are hardworking and honest (to a large extent), all expectations from Modi regime would be distinctly feasible. The abolition of the dozens of GOMs and the EGOMs that slowed down legislation and decision making to a snail’s pace has come not a minute too soon. The many Cabinet Committees used to playing ringa-ringa-roses and pass-the-parcel at the tax payers’ expense too are gone.

In the regional and international relations, Modi did well to start negotiations with regional powers from day one. He went to Bhutan and is sending Sushma Swaraj to Bangladesh, an important ally. He is set to visit Japan, soon after the Budget session. The Chinese Premier has had talks in Delhi and its President is due to come. He did well not to show that he was upset with the US for denying him visa to the country. He immediately accepted President Barack Obama’s invite for a meeting when Modi goes for the UN General Assembly. The foreign policy too is formulated by the PMO.

The PMO of Modi is in effect the engine which would be the centre of decision-making on policy issues. It would govern and get information about the progress of a project, the status of implementation of policies, and feedback about the government.

The PMO is said to be working for reviving the economy, left by the UPA in a messy and stagnant state. Investors from abroad stopped coming, and Indian industrialists instead of investing in the country sought greener pastures in foreign lands. GDP and industrial growth index hit low points, and inflation increased and so did prices. To control and curb the negative developments to revive economy would be the true measure of success.

It is a monumental challenge. Sources said that the government is set to revive businesses and investors’ interest in India hoping that it would kick-start the investment cycle that would create jobs for a burgeoning youth population. With more products in the market, customers will spend, creating more demand. That would, in turn, lead to more investments and consequently more jobs. All this is a major challenge, given the imminence of a weak monsoon this year and the armed crisis in Iraq that is driving up global crude prices.

Many investors are likely to demand cuts in subsidies for fuel, fertiliser and food. They expect the government to move fast on removing supply bottlenecks blamed on state-controlled prices as well as poor roads and rail. Although there is huge buoyancy in the stock market, economists say, the government must convince the central bank to allow credit growth. Other moves such as extending tax credits on investment could help. Let’s await the Budget, to know how many economic issues have been taken up by the Government.

Modi is lucky. The promise by the Swiss government to share a list of Indians who have parked money in banks there have raised hopes that he will deliver on his election promise of unearthing black money. It will be of great use in his scheme to provide amenities of a city to villages.

Modi has so far, in 30 days, made the right moves, notwithstanding controversy over railway fare and removal of governors. Give him, time. Rome was not built in a day, just like that a new invigorated India with happy contented people is not possible in 30 days. And we should be happy that the US media has declared India’s Prime Minister a fashion icon, outpacing Michelle Obama.

By Vijay Dutt

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