A good beginning but not half done
In William Shakespeare’s seminal play “Julius Caesar”, the character of Mark Antony says, “The evil that men do <g data-gr-id="73">lives</g> after them; the good is oft interred with their bones”. So is the case with governments, some political observers would argue. The good they do <g data-gr-id="72">falls</g> through the cracks. No media or reportage ever takes note of it on its prominent pages. Good happenings are not newsworthy. Failures, bloomers and disasters make big news and spawn endless conversations. This is a veritable challenge for all governments. Added to this dilemma is the fact that the business of all governments is continuity, as well as making a difference from its predecessor. How does the new leadership begin to establish and exhibit its footprint while the business of the state maintains its momentum?
The willingness to chart a new course was visible in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bold initiative of inviting SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) leaders to the swearing-in of the new government. Allied with imagination, the prime minister also displayed his ability to lead from the front rather than being content to play the part choreographed by mandarins. It was the ruling dispensation’s very first message to the world and the proximate region in particular that we are going to be partners in the progress and prosperity. A lot was made of the fact that this message of peace was soon obscured by the government’s decision to call off the talks with Pakistan, merely because of its continued attempts to connect with groups inimical to India’s interests. In reality, the government was showing its ability to make choices among a range of options from readiness to build goodwill to ignoring the neighbour and even letting it stew in its own juice. Sometimes unpredictability in responses to unfriendly engagements elicits caution from the opponents at the very least.
A large part of the governmental activity is to ensure continuity. Yes, everybody wants to see excitement, policy changes, personnel changes and spectacular pronouncements aimed at the hearts of the citizens, but excitement also begets turbulence. The government has handled the continuity of institutional mechanisms with aplomb, giving itself time and patience to appraise what needs to be changed and replaced. This is sagacity in motion. As no party gets a clean slate to write its own story on, the legacy narrative has to be carefully appreciated. The new story is then woven into the political fabric, which outlines its course of action. There is little to be gained by causing turbulence because then the energy gets dissipated into calming troubled waters. The media cannot be expected to fill their air time or news sheets with heroic stories of transition management by the new government, so there should be no regret.
The story that is unravelling now is the architecture of the new policy momentum. The Sagar Mala project, for example, represents long-term thinking on the government’s part. The project contemplates the integration between India’s ports and its hinterland infrastructure to create future opportunities for the country. The second major thrust in the government’s priority of initiatives is to harness the potential and pace of urbanization; give it shape and an intelligent and planned process for different participants to play a role and contribute to its developments. Any government will have to keep its prime focus on the country’s defence, diplomacy and finance. These are horizons that have to be constantly monitored and there is always uninterrupted engagement among the global and local factors. All of these need responses and simulations to craft situations to India’s advantage.
The diplomatic moves of the government have been artful. The effort has been to articulate India’s willingness to engage on equal terms with friendly countries and go the distance to accommodate mutual interests, be they commercial or financial. There is a renewed belief in our ability to capitalize on the market size, which correlates to our diplomatic alignments across the world. The agenda has been set by the prime minister himself and is being navigated by his macro vision of fostering advantageous partnerships for crossing technology and economic divides.
A nation’s defence and finance always occupy the maximum mind space of any government, and indeed this is the segment which has been accorded the highest importance. To keep the armed forces in a state of readiness requires a coordinated evaluation of the threats, their imminence, their content and short and long term strategies to respond, prevent and contain them. This assessment is always dynamic and never a one-time answer forever and eternal formulation. This dimension needs ensuring the robustness of the institutional structures capable of round the clock vigils that get fed into the decision-making echelons.
The political leadership imparts confidence and respect to these structures and navigates the diverse perceptions and responses to defence preparedness. The decision-making process has gathered momentum and the political guidance has been cogent and combined with speed. This in itself is <g data-gr-id="94">a gain</g> as there is an air of ‘can do’ notwithstanding how complex the defence questions are. Getting to the starting line on the acquisition of Rafale fighters shows the ability to move ahead and around barriers. The naysayers will discover what is not there and that we have been given only half the promised advantage and advice wait and watch <g data-gr-id="95">for ever</g>, but a responsible government can do so only at the risk of eroding its standing and credibility and discount our preparedness. No decision of any living organization should take seven years to clinch a deal!
The finances of the country are always a complex matter. The size and needs of our population demand huge governmental spending. As the prime mover of the welfare state, there are always competing ends wanting scarce resources but more importantly it is the levers of the giant economy that need to be engaged to give momentum and confidence to the business world. The resources dimension is most critical and one of the important factors for ensuring a constant supply of the resource is the tax regime of a country.
The retrospective tax moves had left the business climate depressed and the global investors have kept away from us. The efforts made so far have been basic. We need a three-year tax framework to bring certainty into the fiscal regime. Yes, it is tempting to tax everything in sight and sometimes for nominal reasons, but any government has to base its tax policy on reasonableness and ease of compliance. A lot of distance has to be covered, but the beginnings look like we might get it right.
This is one area where actions speak louder than pronouncements. We appreciate that legitimate tax collection is a sovereign right, but making the country an internationally desirable investment destination is the centre- piece of the economic climate we are seeking to create and all wings of the government need to understand this. A nation’s prosperity comes through enterprise and only when enterprise flourishes can tax collection flourish. Tying up fanciful demands in judicial reviews does not make the treasury look as if it is in good health.
The advent of this government was accompanied by hope and promise. The citizenship does not want any miracles but just and fair governance. Everybody would love to see the ability of the state to maintain law and order so that the common man can walk the streets without fear or hindrance and pursue their ambitions. One year later, that tacit hope has not yet diminished and that is a great launching pad to move ahead into a brighter orbit. Of course, it’s imperative that the right trajectory has to be maintained.