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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Mutual understanding model of governance resonates with voters

PM’s ear-to-the-ground approach has enabled him to correctly gauge people’s aspirations and expectations

Written by Aparajita Sarangi |
Updated: March 24, 2022 9:01:58 am
The reason such schemes were crafted by the government was PM Modi's deep understanding of the people.

The election results from Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur have surprised many eminent commentators and experts. Their surprise is born out of ignorance of ground realities, both willful and unintentional. The fact that people re-elected their governments decisively, despite a once-in-a-century pandemic, has been quite difficult to absorb and digest for them. For anyone who has observed India’s approach to the pandemic and the public feedback in the last two years with objectivity, the results do not offer any surprise.

The results are an outcome of the “mutual understanding” model in India where Prime Minister Narendra Modi understood the people’s requirements and ground signals like no one else did and the people reciprocated with unprecedented trust.

When the pandemic reached India’s shores in March 2020, we saw numerous suggestions and ideas on how the country should tailor its policy prescriptions to mitigate the impact of the lockdowns and the accompanying economic distress. They ranged from cash handouts to loan and utility bill waivers. There was also a lot of clamour for big packages to bail out corporations. To be fair, there were identical recommendations to policymakers across the world. The difference was that most governments across the world followed this approach, whereas India proved to be an outlier.

Almost two years later, there is sufficient data to analyse the outcomes of the various policy prescriptions followed. Most of the models followed globally have turned out to be short-sighted, insufficient or flawed. As a result, developed economies are grappling with problems of high inflation, high-interest rates and high currency depreciation while their GDP growth rates didn’t pick up as expected. On the other hand, India looks like an island of macroeconomic stability, with healthy growth numbers and inflation within the comfort zone. India’s exports and incoming investments are at record highs.

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India did not throw in the kitchen sink but used a cautious and calibrated approach. India’s package, first and foremost, was targeted towards protecting the most vulnerable. PM Modi ensured this right from the first lockdown; people got gas cylinders, free ration and similar targeted benefits. While people across the board have now woken up to the game-changing impact of free ration, there was hardly any acknowledgement or appreciation of this scheme when it was rolled out. Biases do play a role in this, but it would be wrong to attribute this to only biases.

The reason such schemes were crafted by the government was PM Modi’s deep understanding of the people. He understands society and people’s behaviour, as well as the multi-dimensional aspects of poverty and the mindset of the poor. Contrary to the prescription of experts to go for demand-driven recovery, PM Modi opted for a resilient recovery by safeguarding the poor, the vulnerable and MSMEs. This is because he understood that when there is a crisis, people would opt to conserve their resources even if the government writes cheques worth billions of rupees. It is this understanding of society and people that ensures that Modi’s policies stand out and give the maximum bang for the buck.

Similarly, the credit-linked guarantee scheme for MSMEs was able to protect 6 crore people during the last two years. For people with only a rich experience of textbooks, classrooms and TV studios, these policy choices appear counterfactual. But for common people, it seems that the PM is actually reading their minds when they are in distress and is standing up to support them during these unprecedented times. Because the PM understands them, people also understand that this is a never-before-seen pandemic, and so there is bound to be some distress. People, unlike Opposition parties or op-ed writers, have a good perspective on what a once-in-a-century crisis entails, so they look at the efforts made by the government to help them despite the disruptions all around.

Many analysts have grudgingly accepted the significance of these schemes in the outcome of these elections. However, it would be incomplete to look at it only from a national perspective. Today, the world over, in the backdrop of the pandemic, leaders are facing discontent and anti-incumbency. This discontent is taking the form of various kinds of protests as well as a huge dip in the approval ratings of leaders. In this scenario, PM Modi has maintained one of the highest approval ratings across multiple surveys, such as those conducted by Pew and Morning Consult.

If leaders are to learn from the past and anticipate the future, the single most important take-away from the PM’s governance is his ear-to-the-ground approach, which enabled him to correctly gauge people’s aspirations and expectations without the distortion of intermediaries. This is supported by his ability to build impeccable governance mechanisms to deliver at the grassroots. If a leader can achieve this, the people’s unstinted understanding, trust and support is a by-product.

This column first appeared in the print edition on March 24, 2022 under the title ‘Understanding and trust’.  The writer is a former bureaucrat, MP and national spokesperson, Bharatiya Janata Party

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