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Government in mid-term distress

 S Sethuraman |  2016-09-12 21:20:26.0  |  New Delhi

Government in mid-term distress

As a vibrant nation, India has a vital stake in the success of the strong and stable Modi Government which, however, needs to emerge from its current style of “maximum governance”. In its first 28 months, the government’s democratic credentials have been brought into question on too many occasions.

Policy announcements, some ill-conceived, and hyped reforms can only have a mixed reception, as widespread hostility to “surge” pricing in selective train fares has shown up in the gimmicks employed by a railway minister famed as a great reformer by Mr Modi’s side. 

Talk of billions of dollars, intended and courted for, mainly from external sources with all conditionalities, for the emancipation of the biggest public undertaking apart. Suresh Prabhu’s single biggest achievement over two years is to turn over railway finances into the hands of a “merciful” Finance Minister, obsessed with revenue augmentation. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has his unique strengths as an effective communicator at home, to be turned to votes with all the recurring polls, and winning laurels abroad and credited with re-writing the country’s image in his year-round foreign visits. Of course, he bagged big futuristic investments and technology offers for India’s development from major nations.

But also significantly, India is shaping as a growing aid dispenser for relatively less developed countries in Asian and African regions. Like his predecessors, Modi is making hard cash commitments, mostly trade credits while building strategic bridges with those countries and we should not renege on them for some reason or the other. We get more dismayed when developed nations delay or defer the promised capital flows.  

The world expects besides fiscal deficit control, India should improve basic infrastructure and undertake more of structural reforms and further easing  for doing business in India.  For the sake of transparency, the Modi Government should lay a statement in the winter session of Parliament on the capital flows and outcomes of bilateral commitments on either side over the last 28 months. 
The country would then know how much of investments flowed into the country in this period and their impact and job outcomes.

It is quite clear that the Modi Government’s comfort zone is reducing with growing challenges - political, economic, and security-related - and it is seemingly in distress over a stagnant economy with jobless growth, as it enters its midterm and gets closer to 2019 than when it began its innings with great hopes of fulfilling expectations of aspiring millions. The promised “’achhe din” now stands indefinitely deferred for those who voted for Modi.

Perhaps pragmatically, the Modi Government has not only deferred structural reforms, other than GST, like land and labour, which may not be politically advisable with more state elections pending. It has come up with the idea of having simultaneous elections for the Lok Sabha and States, perhaps assuming BJP would gain the most and become more powerful than at present to push through its own “one nation” agenda.

Secondly, with electoral concerns beginning to reign supreme, with the most critical test pending in UP, to set the stage for the national vote of 2019, the Government is planning to advance the Union Budget presentation for 2017/18 by a month and also take over railway finances as part of the general budget.  Like any other public undertaking, the railways could also then be considered for “strategic disinvestments”. In any case, the Modi Government has already entrenched itself in neo-liberal economics and gives a larger role for market capitalism.

Politically, the Prime Minister has set himself a long-term goal to rid India of not only the Congress but also the regional “majors” which are considered to come in the way of fruition of Modi’s brand of development. While there is no clear blueprint of what Mr Modi has safely in his mind, he has talked of “transforming” India instead of engaging in incremental reforms.  We get to know of Modi of what his image-builders at the back design prudently for him.

Of course, whatever the social and educational backwardness, though largely in rural areas, Mr Modi is rushing for a digital India and a cashless economy, besides smart cities and high-speed trains. At the same time, the Prime Minister believes he can change the face of rural India in the coming decades. Jobs would follow automatically.

Rural India looms large as polls gather momentum in states with UP on top in 2017 and the Prime Minister wants his colleagues and other party men of the broader Hindutva family to carry to the people the achievements of his Government such as “rescuing” a sinking economy and bringing down inflation besides efforts to revive private investment.   There are promises for agriculture, helpfully the monsoon proving plentiful over most of the rain-fed regions. But the distress is palpable with the “anti-Dalit” image resulting from a series of disturbing developments in BJP-ruled Gujarat, the home state of the Prime Minister. Undoing the damage has become a major preoccupation with Modi and his confidant Amit Shah, the BJP President, as not only UP which goes to polls early in 2017 but other states as well are in grip of a well-orchestrated Dalit uprising.

Mr Modi’s enigmatic silences over killings and atrocities on Dalits, attributed to the hyperactivities of Hindutva brigade, did not help matters for him or his Government at crucial moments.  Likewise, the Prime Minister’s sympathy for the death of scores of lives of young people in boiling Kashmir was not only belated but also bereft of proposing meaningful solutions to restore normalcy in Kashmir.

For more than 65 days, violent protests and firings by security forces to restore order have gone on taking a heavy toll of young Kashmiri lives. Belatedly, the opposition parties in Parliament were brought into the picture with a delegation visit but the Prime Minister and his Government have the primary responsibility to propose and get through with a meaningful solution, short of anything impinging on national sovereignty or integrity.

With a PDP-BJP Government in power and taking counsel with other state and national parties, it should be possible to propose an acceptable solution which carries with it a large measure of internal autonomy for Kashmir which should be regarded as other states of the Union. This should hopefully address grievances in the day-to-day life of Kashmiris effectively.  IPA 

(The views expressed are strictly personal.)

S Sethuraman

S Sethuraman

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