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Time for Modi to walk the talk

Time for Modi to walk the talk
Can we always take shelter behind the faults of others and hide behind our own mistakes? Will the present ruling dispensation, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, wash away its mistakes in the past year by hiding behind the sins of previous Congress-led governments? Should we simply nod at the criticisms of senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Arun Shourie? Is this a classic case of shooting the messenger? Was Sonia Gandhi wrong in pointing out the government’s failure to appoint the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) and Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) after so months? For a supporter of Prime Minister Modi in May 2014, these are issues which beg answers.

Time is a continuous linear process. To make it less philosophical and more accessible for the layman, we break it into discrete periods/ pockets of time. Thus, we have anniversaries, the agenda for 100 days and so on. For assessing demonstrable progress, these mileposts are, however, very necessary. Whether Modi likes it or not, the government cannot avoid, dodge and escape its first-anniversary report card. Arun Shourie, a fence sitter till now, has set the ball rolling. 

Bharat Singh, the BJP MP from Ballia, a constituency of the former Prime Minister Chandrasekhar, voiced his assessment on the ground. Sonia Gandhi, a certified critic of Narendra Modi, took the opportunity and raised pertinent points. The early signs of the anniversary celebration for the Modi-led government are not very encouraging.

To be fair to the prime minister, the past one year has not been a complete waste of time. There have been many positive policy announcements and successes in various foreign policy initiatives. A matching fall in global crude prices has helped the Indian economy, besides improving investor sentiment. From the days of a reticent Dr. Manmohan Singh, we have come a long way. However, has the charismatic leader helped the common man in any way?

The government is expected to govern and run the day-to-day administration. This does not mean that big-ticket reforms should not receive the government’s attention. Both must be attended to with equal earnest and care. How did the government fare on the governance scorecard? Like it or not Modi-led government will receive an average rating and that ie being overtly generous. The process of decision taking has been excruciatingly slow.

 The government has been running with an ad-hoc Cabinet Secretary as a governance band-aid. The cabinet secretary is the highest post in the bureaucracy. There are two vacancies in the Election Commission – at a time when key assembly elections are on the horizon. Several state-owned banks are ruderless. Critical posts of the CVC and CIC are empty. 

According to the government, 12 central universities have no vice-chancellors. The NITI Aayog, created on the pyre of the Planning Commission, has not communicated with senior Aayog officials on serious issues. The concerned ministers seem unresponsive. They avoid meeting members of industry and business. 

Meanwhile, the bureaucracy has come back with full vigour. Some of them have taken cue from the prime minister and are agile on Twitter. The Make in India campaign is more visible on Twitter than concrete investment proposals. Approvals from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) take one month or more to obtain the signature of the Finance Minister. Applicants know their fate a couple of months later, whene bureaucrats seem to find time to send the requisite correspondence. Social media, including e-mails, are restricted as a publicity gimmick. Often enough the same backfires.

These are observations of a rank outsider. Bharat Singh, a BJP MP, had to vent his frustration out of turn in a parliamentary party meeting. He was not alone in his annoyance, as other leaders have also endorsed his claims. Clearly not everything is hunky dory for the Modi-led BJP.  

It has been reported that secretaries from different departments have been teamed up into eight working groups, whose job will be to identify schemes for better delivery. The final comment on the matter will finally reach the PMO through the Cabinet Secretary. This long-drawn process will continue to entangle the bureaucracy in more red tape.

The proposed Income Tax (IT) return form is a case in point of bureaucrats getting their way. Suppose you go abroad and furnish all expense details, only for the IT officer to harass you at his leisure. Whose purpose will this serve? How will this stop the parking of ill-gotten wealth in tax havens? Does one carry money in a suitcase to deposit it abroad like many bureaucrats do after settling their IT returns? Shouldn’t the revenue secretary apply his mind on such matters, rather than be part of an august group of secretaries overseeing education? The other question that cannot be ignored anymore is the efficiency of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. He allegedly faltered on the government debt management issue. His role in the MAT saga is yet another blooper.

Communication has been Modi’s strongest point. It seem not anymore. The Land Acquisition Amendment Bill has exposed the prime minister’s limitation in articulating the need for it to the larger public. Was there any effort to educate BJP MPs on the need for the amendment? Did we hear anything from the party on the issue? Did the government’s floor managers and senior leaders discuss the matter with opposition leaders and assess their mood?

Clearly the once in a month radio speech of an articulate Modi cannot replace the need for intense dialogue. The omniscient presence of an ever obedient Amit Shah as an antidote to the well-argued views of Congress spokespersons has also not worked. 

Prime Minister Modi has completed his honeymoon with the Indian electorate. No amount of tweets in Chinese or Korean and pin-striped suits can serve the urgent need to walk the talk. The writing on the anniversary card for Modi from the electorate is loud and clear. 
Sugato Hazra

Sugato Hazra

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