India has had no dearth of skilled politicians — some good at public administration and some good at public welfare. However, what India has truly missed is having a leader at the helm who is a genuine reformer by conviction. We’ve had politicians who’ve displayed foreign degrees and also articulated a great vision. But when it came to genuinely implementing reforms which make a difference in the lives of people, most politicians have not been able to pass the test. This applies to most of our past prime ministers too. P V Narasimha Rao oversaw one of the most reform-oriented eras in our country, but were these reforms truly carried out with conviction or borne out of compulsion? Things are not always black and white, but what is clear are the missed opportunities during the UPA’s rule from 2004-14. An economist became the prime minister but sadly the country saw no new reforms implemented. Was this omission by choice or compulsion? Perhaps only Manmohan Singh can answer this.
The last few years under Narendra Modi have seen the most reform activity ever under any government of India. It was not without reason that Barack Obama called Modi “India’s reformer in chief”. After 10 years of reforms inertia, India saw a slew of reforms because Modi is not a reformer by compulsion but by conviction.
For decades, reforms used to be the sole prerogative of economists and pink papers, as if the common man had nothing to do with them. Modi has changed this system and brought reforms to the centre of public discourse. He has demonstrated to the people how reforms transform their lives. Reforms carried out by PM Modi have brought about a positive change in the lives of crores of Indians. His interventions are not limited to earning plaudits from arm-chair experts but intended to bring real-world change.
Just look at the momentous reforms undertaken in the field of agriculture. India has had dozens of farmer leaders but none took steps to empower farmers. A doctor or an engineer or a lawyer could sell his services to anyone in any part of the country, but a farmer could not sell his produce to anyone except the mandi in his town. This led to a vicious cycle of low remuneration and low technology adoption for the farmers as a result of these prohibitive rules. In one fell swoop, reforms by the Modi Government have ensured that farmers can sell their produce to anyone outside his mandi. This will empower him to sell where he gets a better price and also grow what gets him a better price. Now he will also be able to enter into an agreement to grow and sell specifically to a private player. This will not only bring more stability to his income but will also improve the adoption of modern techniques and technology.
Politicians are often blamed for not being able to envisage the second and third-order effects. However, Modi’s legacy contains reforms which have positive externalities. The IBC has empowered lenders to get back their money while liberating entrepreneurs from the stigma of failed enterprises and enabling them to make a fresh start. RERA is not only removing the information asymmetry and securing buyers’ money but also accelerating project completion. The entry of private enterprises in India’s space sector will make it a win-win proposition for both the sector and the common man.
One constant feature of PM Modi’s governance has been how he is making different sectors more competitive by involving market forces. Today, commercial coal mining is a reality. FDI has been permitted or increased in insurance, real estate, defence, etc. GST would have remained a dream had PM Modi not shown the courage to implement it and spend his political capital on this important reform. To the critics of GST implementation, I would like to ask, should we have waited for another decade for a 100 per cent perfect GST? Sometimes it is better to implement with an open mind rather than not implement at all.
Political scientists and experts often don’t realise a Modi wave till it sweeps the entire opposition off its feet in the results. This is because the Modi wave is not an election phenomenon. The Modi wave has been constructed bit by bit over five years, as people get the direct benefits of good governance and reforms, which they could not see for 70 years. When a poor household gets a gas connection, toilet, house or direct benefit in its bank account, it is because of a reformed process of governance. When a middle-class household gets an income tax refund in weeks or gets cheaper medicines or saves time in daily travel due to a metro, it is because of a reformed process of governance. When an entrepreneur gets faster clearances and one of the world’s lowest corporate tax rates, it is because of a reformed process of governance.
Irrespective of what the political pundits or arm-chair economists feel, 130 crore Indians have seen the impact of Narendra Modi’s reforms in their lives and are giving their stamp of approval through their vote.
This article first appeared in the print edition on September 19, 2020 under the title ‘A reformer by conviction’. The writer is national spokesperson, BJP.
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