Modi’s first 10 days in office
Going by the idiom, well begun is half done, the eventful first 10 days of the Narendra Modi government may seem to have augured well for BJP. The generous application of Modi ‘balm’ has brought a sudden life to the new national government under the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime. Last month, Indian electorates had democratically ousted the politically-paralysed, indecisive, governance deficient Manmohan Singh government. The Modi government started with a diplomatic coup of sort with top SAARC and other neighbouring leaders of the stature of Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif, Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, Sri Lanka’s Mahindra Rajapaksa, Nepal’s Sushil Koirala, Bhutan’s Tshering Tobgay, Maldive’s Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayum, Bangladesh’s Shrin Chowdhury and Mauritius’ Navin Ramgoolam joining the prime minister’s swearing-in ceremony, followed by useful bi-lateral talks the next day.
Modi had surprised the nation, including his friends, critics and political foes, by forming the smallest union cabinet in memory to run the country. Only 45 members, including the prime minister, comprise the union cabinet in keeping with Modi’s much-mentioned mantra – minimum government, maximum governance – despite pressure from coalition partners. The next was the 100-day App for each of his ministers, the abolition of the complex and time-consuming collective decision-making apparatus called GoMs and EGoMs, a legacy of the UPA government meant to save the back of individual ministers on questionable decisions and reduce accountability, and the announcement of a 10-point charter or guiding principle for the government. The GoM stands for ‘group of ministers’ and EGoM for empowered group of ministers.
Important appointments such as principal secretary to the prime minister, attorney general, solicitor general, national security advisor, additional principal secretary, OSD, etc. were made without any waste of time. Finance and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley finished his first round with all secretaries in the departments of economic affairs, expenditure, revenue and financial services by 11.15 am on his very first day in his specious North Block office. Soon after, Jaitley engaged the Reserve Bank governor for discussion on the national economy, money supply and inflation control. By 12.30 pm Jaitley rushed to the defence minister’s office across the road in the South Block to hold meetings with the services chiefs and top defence ministry bureaucrats. Law Justice and Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Information & Broadcasting cum Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar were into sharpening their uptakes on respective fields. If Prasad was upset with the slow progress of broadband penetration into rural India, Naxal-infested regions and mountainous terrains of northeast, Javadekar was busy reviewing the pending mega projects awaiting environment clearance to take off. Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, a physician himself, was exploring the scope of extending health insurance facility to all. At the same time, Fertilisers and Chemicals Minister Ananth Kumar was considering the enlargement of the list of essential drugs under the government price control (DPCO) programme to include expensive cancer, diabetes, tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS medicines.
It was good to see that the government was not quite overtly concerned about the controversies surrounding the appointment of the principal secretary to the prime minister through the ordinance route and discrepancies in statements by the Education (HRD) Minister, Smriti Irani, recording her educational qualification before the Election Commission. Shrugging off the opposition slander, Smriti was busy with the task of education reform and drawing action plans involving states, top institutes and universities, including a bid to draw curtains on the debate on Delhi University’s much maligned four-year degree course programme. There was even a ‘curtain raiser’ on BJP’s official mission to accord Jammu & Kashmir the same status as it is enjoyed by other Indian states by amending the controversial Article 370 of the Constitution to ensure speedy economic development of the state. In the absence of right to land and immovable property, the corporate sector has avoided investment in J&K in manufacturing industries and high value-added farming that are particularly suitable in its climatic condition. Expectedly, the ‘curtain raiser’ drew flak from both Farooq Abdulla’s National Conference and its rival, Mufti Mohammed Sayed-led People’s Democratic Party, Hurriyat and the other political and hard-line groups in the valley. Notably, there was no call for Kashmir bandh or street violence to protest against such an official statement from a junior minister in the prime minister’s office, certainly a departure from the traditional practice of expressing disapproval of any central move to fiddle with J&K’s political autonomy and constitutional status.
Modi’s ministers freely shared their ‘loud thoughts’ on other policy matters like further opening up of economy to foreign equity participation – from 26 per cent to 100 per cent – in such sensitive areas as banking, insurance, public undertakings, e-commerce, retailing, media and defence. They even dwelt on the ‘politically touchy’ and environmentally critical mention of the government’s positive thinking on introduction of genetically engineered seeds in agriculture and cooperating with the global leader, Monsanto of the US, in this regard. Interestingly, such official ‘feelers’ also didn’t provoke much strong reaction from those political parties, labour unions and social groups which had severely opposed such government moves in the past. The pace of work at the capital’s sarkari bhawans was in full flow through the second week despite the sadden death of Rural Development Minister Gopinath Munde, one of BJP’s strong organisational pillars in Maharashtra, in a Delhi road accident. The prime minister addressed all top bureaucrats in the government, before meeting and interacting with them in smaller batches. There had never been an exercise of this nature and magnitude with the prime minister directly dealing with the entire central bureaucracy. It is certainly a Modi innovation of bureaucratic unitarisation on development.
However, it is still too early to consider those first giddy raptures within the government as a definite signal of a quick economic recovery or a success of the Modi government in carrying the people and all important democratic institutions along. The non-BJP ruled states could pose a big challenge to Modi’s governmental success. The harsh reality is that only seven of the country’s 29 states are ruled by BJP and its allies. Some of them like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Seemandhra, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu could prove to be tough customers providing strong resistance to Modi’s ambitious national development plans to protect their identity and political relevance in the respective states. Modi has won the centre. Can he win the states? If not, his development dream could turn a nightmare before long. IPA