NDA: Hits and Misses

As he com­pletes three years at the helm, Naren­dra Modi is on the cusp of join­ing In­dia’s pan­theon of great lead­ers


An as­sess­ment of how In­dia has fared in the three years of the Naren­dra Modi gov­ern­ment

MEN, IT IS SAID, MAKE HIS­TORY—not the other way round. To do that, ev­ery leader of a coun­try searches for what the pop­u­lar film Kung Fu Panda called the Dragon Scroll—the key to lim­it­less power. As he com­pletes three years at the helm of the world’s largest democ­racy, Naren­dra Damodar­das Modi has firmly es­tab­lished him­self as a max­i­mum leader. Es­pe­cially after lead­ing the rul­ing BJP to a spec­tac­u­lar vic­tory in the re­cent Ut­tar Pradesh assem­bly elec­tions. The man from Gu­jarat with hum­ble be­gin­nings is not just mak­ing his­tory but is also seen as In­dia’s fu­ture—at least for the next elec­tion.

SO, HAS MODI FOUND the Dragon Scroll mid­way through his ten­ure—the se­cret sauce that has en­abled him to re­gain the aura of in­vin­ci­bil­ity? And what does he need to do in the com­ing years to sus­tain that force to make In­dia a vi­brant and pros­per­ous na­tion and take his place in the pan­theon of lead­ers of modern In­dia? Each of In­dia’s great lead­ers came with their own an­swers and so­lu­tions. Ma­hatma Gandhi searched long and hard for the well­spring of In­dia that if tapped could drive a na­tion and its peo­ple to greater heights. After many ex­per­i­ments, Gandhi con­densed that power to what he called the twins—truth and non­vi­o­lence—which he de­scribed as the might­i­est force in the world, in­fin­itely su­pe­rior even to the force of an atom bomb. And he har­nessed that with the clarion call of ‘Quit In­dia’ that res­onated across a suf­fer­ing, colonised coun­try.

Jawa­har­lal Nehru be­lieved the rea­son for In­dia’s sub­ju­ga­tion was that “the spirit of ad­ven­ture and a ra­tio­nal spirit of in­quiry had given way to a nar­row ortho­doxy, taboos and a blind idol­a­try… like a slug­gish stream mov­ing slowly through the ac­cu­mu­la­tions of dead cen­turies”. To rein­vig­o­rate In­dia, Nehru har­nessed what he called the de­sire among In­di­ans “for syn­the­sis be­tween the old and the new. It was this urge and de­sire that kept In­dia go­ing and en­abled us to ab­sorb new ideas while re­tain­ing much of the old.” Nehru be­lieved that if In­dia had to march ahead, she not only had to take the best from the past but rad­i­cally change her ap­proach so that she could ab­sorb the ideas of the present and build a new fu­ture.

When Indira Gandhi be­came prime min­is­ter, she was ini­tially dis­missed as a goongi gudiya (dumb doll). She would soon prove her de­trac­tors wrong and emerge as pos­si­bly the strong­est and most de­ci­sive leader In­dia has ever had. Among those who honed her think­ing was P.N. Hak­sar, a man of tow­er­ing in­tel­lect, who con­vinced her that what mat­tered most was strength. He cited to her the his­to­rian L.V. Namier’s anal­y­sis: “The weight of an ar­gu­ment greatly de­pends on him who uses it: that of the strong has force and car­ries con­vic­tion; that of the weak if unan­swer­able, is called a quib­ble and apt to cause an­noy­ance.” Among the de­ci­sions Indira Gandhi is re­mem­bered for is the 1971 Indo­Pak war and In­dia’s first nu­clear test in 1974.

When he be­came prime min­is­ter, Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee, apart from his en­thralling or­a­tory and ten­der­ness of heart, mas­tered the art of get­ting to the core of a ma­jor is­sue with­out al­low­ing the mul­ti­plic­ity of ar­gu­ments to con­found him. There was a sim­plic­ity and di­rect­ness to his think­ing that en­abled speedy de­ci­sion­mak­ing. Va­j­payee be­lieved in the an­cient con­cept of shakti which holds that ev­ery in­di­vid­ual pos­sesses a ki­netic en­ergy that can be tapped to re­gain a na­tion’s great­ness. Soon after he or­dered In­dia’s nu­clear tests in 1998, Va­j­payee said, “The great­est mean­ing of th­ese tests is that they have given In­dia shakti, they have given In­dia strength and they have given In­dia self­con­fi­dence.”

Be­fore Va­j­payee, there was P.V. Narasimha Rao, who dis­man­tled the Li­cence Raj and ush­ered in ma­jor eco­nomic re­forms in 1991—a prime min­is­ter of great in­tel­lect who brought deep thought and grav­i­tas to the de­ci­sions he took. Then there was Ra­jiv Gandhi, a tech­savvy leader who un­der­stood what young In­dia as­pired for and trig­gered the first dig­i­tal wave, apart from es­tab­lish­ing

Modi ab­hors rou­tine and is al­ways search­ing for the big, am­bi­tious and chal­leng­ing idea that would rad­i­cally change In­dia

In­dia as a re­gional su­per­power. More re­cently, Manmohan Singh showed steel by go­ing ahead with the Indo­US nu­clear deal and com­pas­sion by fo­cus­ing on pro­poor pro­grammes, in­clud­ing en­larg­ing the ru­ral em­ploy­ment guar­an­tee scheme and in­sti­tu­tion­al­is­ing Aadhaar be­fore he lost his way in his sec­ond term.

MODI CAUGHT THE IMAG­I­NA­TION of the In­dian elec­torate with his prom­ise of a de­ci­sive and clean gov­ern­ment that would fo­cus on de­vel­op­ment. It pro­pelled him to power with a clear ma­jor­ity—the first for an In­dian gov­ern­ment in 25 years. Union min­is­ter for rail­ways Suresh Prabhu likens Naren­dra Modi’s tri­umph in 2014 to a Twenty20 match: the UPA had bowled and fielded so badly in its sec­ond term that when Team Modi took charge in 2014 it was like In­dia be­ing down 300 runs. It meant that to stave off de­feat, Modi and his balle­baaz had to come out blaz­ing and hit ev­ery other ball for a bound­ary—a tough ask.

Per­haps a rail­way metaphor might have been more ap­pro­pri­ate to de­scribe the tran­si­tion. In its fi­nal years of gov­er­nance, UPA had run out of steam and de­railed In­dia. There was a steep eco­nomic down­turn, a dis­as­trous pol­icy paral­y­sis and the stench of cor­rup­tion was om­nipresent. Modi and his team had to not only put the econ­omy back on track, but fit his train with dou­ble­headed en­gines to speed up de­vel­op­ment.

When Modi took over as prime min­is­ter, he termed him­self an out­sider and new to Delhi’s snooty power cir­cles. He was no green­horn, though, ei­ther to pol­i­tics or ad­min­is­tra­tion. Those who know him well be­lieve Modi has both a sense of des­tiny and his­tory. Early in his life, he an­swered an in­ner call­ing by giv­ing up fam­ily and friends and em­brac­ing a no­madic and as­cetic lifestyle. He ex­plored the spir­i­tual and so­ci­etal di­men­sions of life and de­vel­oped a con­struct of his own that would guide all his ac­tions in­clud­ing when he be­came po­lit­i­cally pow­er­ful. As an RSS pracharak, Modi spent years tour­ing the coun­try ex­ten­sively, build­ing an un­der­stand­ing of the key is­sues that needed to be tack­led.

Then in his first ten­ure as chief min­is­ter he learnt the hard lessons of pol­i­tics after the 2002 Gu­jarat ri­ots. It taught him re­silience, the need to firmly put down an­ar­chy of any kind and fo­cus on tem­po­ral is­sues such as roti, kapda, makaan and bi­jli, sadak, paani. Also to reach out and com­mu­ni­cate di­rectly with peo­ple, which made him so­cial me­dia­savvy and an in­spir­ing pub­lic speaker.

Modi then evolved the Gu­jarat model of gov­er­nance and was lauded for his in­te­grated ap­proach to de­vel­op­ment cou­pled with de­ci­sive and strong lead­er­ship. BJP pres­i­dent Amit Shah, who has worked with Modi for over 30 years, be­lieves that the prime min­is­ter made no changes in his style or ethics when he came to Delhi. “Naren­drab­hai’s suc­cess is a byprod­uct of his nat­u­ral abil­i­ties and ef­forts,” Shah says.

In Delhi, Modi sig­nalled that he did not be­lieve in repet­i­tive ad­min­is­tra­tive work or gov­er­nance. Those who know him well say he ab­hors rou­tine and rep­e­ti­tion and is al­ways search­ing for the big, am­bi­tious and chal­leng­ing idea that would rad­i­cally change so­ci­ety and in­spire the na­tion. Modi is also not averse to tak­ing big risks even if they may af­fect his po­lit­i­cal for­tunes. Once he de­cides to act on an is­sue he does so with bold­ness and con­fi­dence pre­fer­ring non­con­ven­tional so­lu­tions and an el­e­ment of sur­prise. In the midst of his gov­ern­ment’s de­mon­eti­sa­tion drive, he told in­dia to­day in an in­ter­view in Jan­uary, “If you act with clar­ity and with the purest of mo­tives, the re­sults will be there for ev­ery­one to see. I seek no per­sonal ben­e­fits from this, only the greater good.”

Con­trary to the crit­i­cism that Modi is au­to­cratic and that all ma­jor de­ci­sions are taken by the PMO, his col­leagues point out that the prime min­is­ter is a very good lis­tener and wants them to al­ways come up with grand ideas that can be im­ple­mented. Fi­nance min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley, who has also been a cabi­net min­is­ter in pre­vi­ous NDA gov­ern­ments, says Modi is ex­tremely en­er­getic and has the abil­ity to work 18 to 20 hours non­stop. Ac­cord­ing to Jait­ley, Modi al­ways comes well­briefed on ev­ery sub­ject, en­sures that he has mul­ti­ple sources of in­for­ma­tion and is will­ing to spend time dis­cussing all the pro­pos­als in depth while hav­ing the cal­i­bre and vi­sion to fo­cus on the things that are im­por­tant. Modi’s gov­er­nance in the past three years is guided by his be­lief that, as he puts it, “In­dia is stand­ing at a water­shed mo­ment, on the cusp of ac­tu­al­is­ing its in­her­ent po­ten­tial as a de­vel­oped na­tion and a global leader.” There are four clear ar­eas of fo­cus in his ten­ure so far: em­pow­er­ing peo­ple, es­pe­cially the poor, im­prov­ing de­liv­ery and min­imis­ing cor­rup­tion, mak­ing states rather than the Cen­tre the key driv­ers of eco­nomic growth and build­ing the in­fra­struc­ture to cat­a­pult In­dia into the league of de­vel­oped na­tions. The wel­ter of pro­grammes that he has launched is de­signed to ful­fil th­ese aims. In all th­ese, the prime min­is­ter would like to be seen more as a so­cial re­former than an eco­nomic one. His is a ‘peo­ple first’ ap­proach.

Modi is clear that In­dia can­not achieve de­vel­op­ment with­out the poor ben­e­fit­ting from eco­nomic growth. He is deeply con­cerned that even as In­dia cel­e­brates 70 years of In­de­pen­dence, there are mil­lions who still do not have enough to eat, wa­ter to drink, no toi­lets or pucca houses. And fa­cil­i­ties such as schools, health­care cen­tres and roads re­main pa­thetic. So Swachh Bharat was launched as a sig­na­ture pro­gramme to pro­vide toi­lets to those who do not have them. It has touched the lives of mil­lions, es­pe­cially women

Modi is clear In­dia can­not achieve de­vel­op­ment with­out the poor ben­e­fit­ting from eco­nomic growth. His ini­tia­tives fo­cus on their wel­fare

who face the em­bar­rass­ment of defe­cat­ing in the open. The schemes to pro­vide gas con­nec­tions, crop in­sur­ance for farm­ers, elec­tric­ity to all vil­lages and ru­ral house­holds are all de­signed to up­lift the poor. There are also clever po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions for Modi be­com­ing the mes­siah of the garib and farm­ers. He has taken a leaf out of Indira Gandhi’s book to over­come the con­straints of caste and com­mu­nal vote banks by fo­cus­ing on the poor.

The sec­ond ma­jor area that Modi is fo­cus­ing on is min­imis­ing cor­rup­tion and im­prov­ing de­liv­ery of ser­vices. Shah points out that ev­ery ac­tion of his is done ac­cord­ing to a plan. The 270 mil­lion Jan Dhan ac­counts that were opened en­abled the gov­ern­ment to ef­fec­tively im­ple­ment the Di­rect Ben­e­fit Trans­fer of de­posit­ing sub­si­dies into re­spec­tive ac­counts. En­hanc­ing the Aadhaar pro­gramme en­sured that the funds went di­rectly to ben­e­fi­cia­ries and re­duced pil­fer­age. Then came the frontal as­sault on black money through the dras­tic mea­sure of de­mon­eti­sa­tion of high-value notes.

While the out­come of de­mon­eti­sa­tion is still be­ing hotly de­bated, it has al­ready re­sulted in the ex­pan­sion of the num­ber of in­come-tax pay­ers by 30 per cent and cre­ated a fi­nan­cial trail that would en­able the gov­ern­ment to crack down on big of­fend­ers. By re­lent­lessly pur­su­ing the ab­scond­ing Vi­jay Mallya, the gov­ern­ment is out to prove that even the high and mighty are not above the law. On is­sues such as post­ings and trans­fers, Modi has re­duced dis­cre­tionary pow­ers and fo­cused on en­sur­ing that merit pre­vails. And by putting a tight leash on his min­is­ters and of­fi­cials, he has en­sured that there are no ma­jor charges of cor­rup­tion lev­elled against his gov­ern­ment.

THE THIRD MA­JOR AREA of fo­cus has been to em­power state gov­ern­ments to boost eco­nomic growth rather than cen­tralise de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives. So apart from devo­lu­tion of funds to the states, the ma­jor struc­tural change the Modi gov­ern­ment has ef­fected is to in­tro­duce the Goods and Ser­vices Tax that will make it eas­ier for in­dus­try to do busi­ness across states and im­prove tax com­pli­ance. On the fourth thrust area of in­fra­struc­ture, there are ma­jor ini­tia­tives to ex­pand the road, rail and ship­ping net­works to boost con­nec­tiv­ity and eco­nomic growth. There are now moves to dis­in­vest in loss-mak­ing pub­lic sec­tor units, with Air In­dia at num­ber one on the list.

In the fol­low­ing pages, our staffers have an­a­lysed all the ma­jor sec­tors and crit­i­cally eval­u­ated the Modi gov­ern­ment’s per­for­mance. While in some sec­tors like trans­port and en­ergy, the gov­ern­ment is do­ing ex­tremely well, in other crit­i­cal ar­eas such as ed­u­ca­tion and health, it has been found want­ing. The gov­ern­ment needs to fo­cus hard on

Con­trary to the crit­i­cism that Modi is au­to­cratic, his col­leagues say the PM is a good lis­tener and wants them to come up with grand ideas that can work

The gov­ern­ment needs to fo­cus hard on cre­at­ing jobs for the mil­lions in the re­main­ing two years of its ten­ure and im­ple­ment the nu­mer­ous schemes

cre­at­ing jobs for the mil­lions in the re­main­ing two years of its ten­ure. It is also im­por­tant that Modi and his team im­ple­ment the nu­mer­ous schemes and pro­grammes that have been launched. To the prime min­is­ter’s credit, he per­son­ally mon­i­tors all the ini­tia­tives and pushes both his min­is­ters and top bu­reau­crats hard. As Prabhu says, he has the abil­ity to see through th­ese from idea to im­ple­men­ta­tion and also its cross-sec­toral ben­e­fits.

So, has Modi dis­cov­ered the se­cret of the Dragon Scroll? In the movie, Po the panda finds out that when opened, the scroll has a blank golden sur­face that re­flects his im­age. The larger mes­sage is that the se­cret to lim­it­less power lies in one­self and not in any mantra. Modi’s en­tire thrust in th­ese three years has been to em­power the mil­lions across In­dia so that they be­come the force that will trans­form the coun­try.

By 2022, when the coun­try com­pletes 75 years of In­de­pen­dence, Modi wants to usher in a New In­dia that “will be pow­ered by the strength of each and ev­ery cit­i­zen, an In­dia driven by in­no­va­tion, hard work and cre­ativ­ity, an In­dia char­ac­terised by peace, unity and broth­er­hood, an In­dia free from cor­rup­tion, ter­ror­ism, black money and dirt.” Like the panda, Modi has dis­cov­ered that the se­cret of the Se­cret Sauce is that there is no se­cret. All it re­quires is for all of us in In­dia to be­lieve that we can do it—to­gether.

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