Focus on governance is the key
With a compact cabinet crew in place, the Modi government has made the right head-start in getting into the brass-tacks without wasting time and energy in frivolities. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has proved his detractors plumb wrong in the inception by inviting leaders of the continent’s sub-region to his inauguration ceremony and demonstrating his fervent faith in securing the comfort and confidence of the neighbours. This process is bound to generate enormous goodwill and galvanise friendly feelings in building an ‘inter-linked neighbourhood’ before India goes about hobnobbing itself with the rest of the high and mighty in the comity of nations.
Having been a state chief minister thrice, Modi knows how important it is to live with one’s own neighbour in amity and placidity. The extension of this credo since he became the prime minister of the nation is thus rooted in fundamental ideals fitting the persona. The fact that most of them responded in readiness plainly proves that they too harbor hope that better days would begin soon if all sail together in the common quest of developing the sub-region into a hub and beehive of activity where unfortunately most of the world’s poorest people somehow subsist.
The enlightened cooperation and spirit of solidarity extended by Modi would go a long way to usher in a genuine sphere of shared prosperity over the long-haul. This could be feasible through numerous institutional instruments including investment and trade policies and interchange of ideas and persistent dialogues among leaders to solve myriad problems born out of misperceptions and misunderstanding. That the prime minister is a no-nonsense person is revealed by his reassuring talks and conduct in the initial days when he met the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the latter’s residence. Modi aptly signaled that he would absolutely stand by all good practices and policies of the previous governments but would not hesitate to hew them if they do not gel with his vision of development. Continuity in policy and bringing synergy in the activities of unproductive departments and ministries by aligning them in a rational and reasonable way are conspicuous measures that would go a long way in boosting morale and bringing efficiency.
Consolidation is too good a thing to be ignored and Modi has displayed a salutary sense in doing this purely based on his pre-election proclamation of ‘a minimum government and maximum governance’. This thinking is also reflected in his merciless scrapping of all the Empowered Group of ministers (EGoMs) and Group of Ministers (GoMs) which the previous government perfected to postpone taking due decisions to gain time! Now that the prime minister himself has displayed his derision for such bureaucratic dilly-dallying in decision-making and boldly declared that in all important policy matters the prime minister will have a direct say, of course, with the consensus of the council of ministers, the way ahead is distinctly clear that actions on pending issues would be initiated forthwith.
For a jumbo economy which is the world’s third largest in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP) measure, the time has come to break out the sub-five per cent growth trajectory of the last two years. The prime minister’s willing gesture to own up all decisions without passing the bucks on others which was the facile convention and chicanery of the past, the message goes loud and clear that investors need not be unduly hobbled on any count other than keeping their strategies in right mode to succeed. Modi has regained the confidence of senior bureaucrats by patiently hearing their presentations as to how to fix the faults so that the delivery machinery can run smoothly to ensure that inclusive growth is not elusive and illusory. How all these brief initial interactions would get translated into gains in the months ahead would be known when results from the ground show up before long. A quiet number of serious analysts had genuinely lauded the new government’s initial steps that are not baby ones but matured enough to draw plaudits.
By empowering his officials with responsibility and due rewards, Modi can bring about tangible improvements in the management of vital infrastructure organisations such as the behemoth Indian Railways, National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), power generation utilities, Coal India, ports and aviation sector, though a few of which are in private domain after de-bundling from the octopus-hold of the state since the 1991 economic reforms by stages. Alongside, process refinements in simplifying laws and structures governing clearance machinery for project launch are too urgent to be postponed any further particularly when investment famine stalking the country is to be banished. It is time that the distinction between hard and soft infrastructure is understood in right earnest so that both could be built to unlock the unparalleled growth potentials that remain untapped for far too long. The hard infrastructure adverts to the physical ones such as railways, dams, roads, satellites with the attendant installations needed to operate, manage and monitor a system with the implicit remit that the structures stay permanent and user-friendly. Soft infrastructure entails institutions that upkeep standards of an ethos such as primary education, basic health amenities, law enforcement and emergency services.
In the name of experimenting with public-private partnerships (PPPs) model, the country had lost precious time over the last two decades in building either of them properly. It is up to the new government to take a proper call on which one should the state focus with a decisive strategy in place so that things get moving in the way they should have been.
In a country of continental size like ours, the state must perforce have a major role to play in building basic infrastructure, both physical and social. But where humongous resources required to harness them are woefully absent, wisdom lays in tapping novel proposals to hit the ground running so that impediments to development is broken once for all.
With hindsight of policy fallacies accumulated on both hard and soft infrastructures, the time for prevarication is past and action to start stares in the face if India is to join the league of the developed nations, as was envisioned by the NDA government under Atal Behari Vajpayee way back in the early years of the current millennium. IPA