Must Do’s For Modi
Narendra Modi is about to address the nation as the Prime Minister for the second time from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15, India’s 69th Independence Day. Last time, his Independence Day speech was widely admired. He had praised all his predecessors—and mostly they happened to be from the Congress, the party that has governed the independent India for nearly 60 years. Modi had raised hopes and aspirations of all Indians. But this year, when he addresses the nation, things look quite different. Indian polity seems highly fractured, with the opposition Congress paralysing the Parliament. Political consensus on developmental programmes is more elusive than ever before.
If politics is more about perception than reality, then it seems that the Modi’s so far has been a non-performing government. Modi might have taken a lot of decisions on files, but he has not monitored their implementations. It is becoming increasingly obvious that Modi’s cabinet is terribly short of talents. Of course, contrary to what the Congress party is trying to project the Modi-government, people still think that the Modi government is free from financial scandals. But, as my diplomat-friend Madhup Mohta rightly says, “Modi’s core constituency, the educated young, is getting increasingly disillusioned. That is the single biggest problem. He is beginning to lose the battle of Social Media.”
As the young, below the age of 35, constitute the majority of India’s 1.28 billion-strong population, the demographic dividends of the country could be its biggest asset, provided there are enough jobs or gainful employments for them. That, in turn, requires diversion to industry from agriculture, which, while contributing not more than 14 per cent of the country’s GDP, remains the source of livelihood of more than half of the population. But then industrialisation needs labour, land, technology and capital. India does not have enough capital, or for that matter high technology. So every government talks of inviting foreign investments, both in capital and technology. India has abundant labour, though skilled labour remains an issue. India has plenty of land, but that land is in the private hands. And it so happens that land is often fragmented and owned mostly bythe small farmers. Unless these small farmers sell their land to the government or industry and unless there is an adequate land-bank, industrialisation of India and employment generation,two of the main electoral promises of Modi, will remain only a dream.
In 2013, what was considered a huge vote-catching measure for the then ruling Congress party, the Manmohan Singh government had framed a land Acquisition Act that contained, among others, provisions that mandated a compulsory social impact assessment of the acquisition and consent of 70-80 per cent of people affected. This has resulted in a situation where there has been hardly any land acquisition for industrialisation in the country since 2013. It is now being realised that if the provisions of the 2013 Act are implemented without any legal challenges or agitations, it will take at least four years to acquire land. Naturally, therefore, Modi wanted dilution of this law, which otherwise, would make his policy of job-creation meaningless and jeoparadise his chances of reelection in 2019.
But then Modi’s government does not have the legislative majority in the Upper House of the Parliament (Rajya Sabha) to pass the amended Bill that his government has already passed in the Lower House (Lok Sabha). The Congress, or for that matter, Communists and some other opposition parties, seem determined not to allow the passage of the Bill on the amended Land Acquisition Act. Earlier, Modi thought to fight it out and put all his prestige and political capital behind the proposed law, but now he seems to have given up.
His government has withdrawn all the key amendments required for speedy and smooth acquisition. On the other hand, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has proposed that States should pass their respective Land Laws and that the Central government will help them in granting the consent of the President.
Whatever his supporters may say, Modi’s public image has gone for a severe beating. His reputation as a bold, decisive and visionary leader has been badly affected. In fact, his critics are pointing out how the previous Congress government had brought about more reforms than what was perceived and how the Modi government has preferred incrementalism to radical changes of archaic laws that stalled India’s growth and development.
Needless it is to say that Modi has to find ways out to stem his falling image. In my considered view, there are two“must do’s” for Modi if he wants to retrieve his lost image or reputation. First, he must ask, as his finance minister Jaitley has said, all the States under the BJP rule to call for special sessions of their respective legislative assemblies to pass the Land Bills that are fair to the owners but in such a manner that expedites land acquisition. At the moment, the BJP has under its control States such as Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. And these are the major States which are key to India’s industrialisation. And there are no reasons why these States cannot bring out suitable land acquisition legislations with the support of a sympathetic Central government.
Secondly, Modi’s foreign visits should be as less frequent as possible. His foreign policy-record is pretty good. Under normal circumstances, as someone whose major area of interest is international relations, I would have been very happy that the Indian Prime Minister is so popular abroad; but given the situation back at home, Modi must keep his engagement with the Indian people on a priority. He is the best communicator of his government. He must ensure that he addresses at least two public rallies every month in various parts of the country. He must tell the people that the opposition, particularly the Congress party, is hell bent upon blocking him to deliver goods that he had promised during elections. He must generate sufficient public pressure so that the opposition is forced to render constructive support to the government in the Upper House of Parliament for bringing about badly needed developmental reforms in the governance of the nation, be it land acquisition or uniform indirect taxes all over the country.
This task of communicating with the people directly is something that Modi alone has to do. And there are two reasons for that. For one, Modi is the only genuine reformer in his government. All told, the BJP in India is not a Conservative Party on the economic front. The BJP, unlike a genuine Conservative party, believes in socialism and populism (it talks of pursuing “Gandhian Socialism”). The party has top leaders who literally hate the liberalisation of the economy and globalisation. In fact, these elements, whether in the BJP or in the RSS, are deeply opposed to the new land- acquisition law. They believe that it is the job of the government to provide everything free or subsidised. They do not talk, like Modi, of less government and more governance. They do not highlight the importance of empowerment of the poor so that they do not remain poor; they will like poor to remain beggars for the government freebies and subsidies.Viewed thus, it is only Modi who can go beyond the economic philosophy of the BJP, which, otherwise, has much in common with the Communists.
For another, Modi can never expect an understanding media to sensitize the people about good aspects of the polices of his government. As I have argued always , the national media is overwhelmingly dominated by journalists and contributors who are moulded in what is said to be the Nehruvian framework—“Left and Liberal” and this media literally hates Modi, BJP or for that matter anybody who has an alternate worldview. And here, media is not alone. The principal maker of the perception that Modi is proving to be a failure is “the Delhi establishment”, which includes Delhi bureaucracy, Delhi intelligentsia and Delhi media. Deeply committed to Nehruvianism, the Delhi establishment is yet to reconcile with what it virtually thinks to be a hostile takeover by Modi, a rank outsider. Its hostility towards Modi is going to increase in the days to come, particularly when Modi is not able to deliver his promises. In fact, as regards the media, anti-Modi elements, ironically, are becoming stronger and stronger with each passing day, belying their earlier fears of a Fascist Modi. They continue to dominate even today the media controlled or funded by the government.
In sum, Modi has not done enough to live up to the hopes he had given to the Indians last year. He still talks too much. Now is the time for some “must do’s”. He may begin with the two that I have suggested.
By Prakash Nanda