Waiting for the roadmap
Last week, within days of the swearing-in ceremony, Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued the 10-point agenda for his ministers. At the conclusion of the second meeting of his cabinet, the prime minister came out with the points which largely focused on empowering the bureaucracy, whom Modi’s idol Vallabh Bhai Patel once called steel-frame of government. However, the steel frame over the years has shown themselves to be of most supple spine and of supine character ready to bend at any diktat of the political executive especially in the states.
Modi told his minister that for suraaj (good governance) there was need for empowering the bureaucracy to let it work without the fear that their actions will be investigated post-retirement. The prime minister was refereeing to the cases being faced by several bureaucrats post-retirement.
This post-retirement haunting had led to a situation under the Manmohan Singh government where the bureaucracy feared processing political decisions lest it invite legal reprimand. This created a situation of policy and administrative paralysis.
At the cabinet meeting under discussion, Prime Minister Modi told ministers to treat governance as the most important subject, with a sharp focus on delivery and implementation, which, he felt, could be achieved only with a confident bureaucracy. The prime minister is also meeting bureaucrats separately and is expected to address them collectively to inculcate that important quotient of confidence to get governance back on the track.
This move by Modi expectedly has come in for criticism by the Congress, which designated one of its most articulate faces – former minister Shashi Tharoor ,to carry out a dissection of the 10-point agenda enumerated by Modi. In fact the Congress called the 10-point agenda as 10 Commandments, referring to a set of Biblical principles relating to ethics and worship, which play a central role in Judaism and Christianity.
Though Tharoor personally did not call the 10-point agenda as Commandments in the written text but he went onto say that says that it’s bereft of being called either an agenda or a manifesto for governance. On the role of bureaucracy, Tharoor too invoked Patel saying, ‘since the days of Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel who is often cited by this government, there has been a very clear understanding that the best safeguard in our country to provide confidence to the bureaucrats is security of tenure and financial independence.’ Thereafter as an evidence of his party’s non-partisan view of the bureaucracy, he went onto the exhibit the letter written by Congress president Sonia Gandhi to stop harassment of young IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal in Uttar Pradesh, which is under the rule of Samajwadi Party. Why go that far Tharoor, we have the recent case of union health secretary Keshav Desiraju being transferred out at the behest of Ghulam Nabi Azad, health minister in the now ousted UPA government.
The move to shunt Desiraju out came when the former refused to take the dictation on giving a clean chit to former head of the Medical Council of India Ketan Desai. Azad was accused of removing the senior bureaucrat when the latter opposed giving a go ahead to the re-appointment of Desai as chairman of Medical Council of India. Desai was earlier jailed on corruption charges.
Tharoor did not stop there but went onto moan that the BJP which is now talking about transparency in governance stonewalled attempts of the predecessor government at the passage of several anti-corruption bills. Well the former United Nations bureaucrat would have done better to explain why these legislations were piloted at the fag-end of the government’s tenure and were they not planned more for political expediency to give credit to his leader Rahul Gandhi.
Having disagreed majorly with the Congress’s criticism of prime minister’s 10-point agenda, it would also be not out of place to state that other than the issue of empowering bureaucrats and drawing a 100-day agenda, there is much ambiguity about the roadmap for governance which Narendra Modi wants to unfold. In fact the 100-day agenda focuses more on wrapping up the work left behind by the UPA government. The government’s roadmap would be only known when President Pranab Mukherjee would address the customary joint sitting of the two houses following the constitution of the new Lok Sabha. Ordinarily the President’s Address is a statement on the policy of the government. The Address is drafted by the government, which is responsible for execution of the policies. Since it’s a new government in office, the address would be eagerly looked forward for the policies which the government would want to pursue with regard to important internal and international problems.
The address should also list main legislative items, which are proposed to be brought during the course of the year. One would have to wait for a discussion on the Motion of Thanks to the President’s address to know the actual dynamics of governance which the newly installed prime minister has in his mind. In normal circumstances, the prime minister gives reply to the debate on the Motion. Having heard Modi, the political campaigner, in plenty, many in the nation, including your reporter, would be looking after to his intervention in the debate in Parliament. It would require a break from soliloquy-style of speech delivery to active debate, which would, in turn, be the real test of his oration style.
The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post