Updated: May 26, 2015 12:00:41 am
In the last 12 months, arguably the biggest achievement of the Narendra Modi government is that the story of India, within the country and outside it, has changed, been enlivened. By the end of the UPA 2 regime, a bleak picture had been painted: the economy was on shaky ground, corruption charges had piled up, bureaucrats appeared reluctant to take decisions. Since Modi took charge last year on May 26, he has invested effort in addressing these negative perceptions. An auction process for coal and telecom is now in place. The government has energetically talked up India’s possibilities and designed eye-catching programmes — Swachh Bharat, Make in India, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao. It has been astute in building on UPA platforms like Aadhaar, dovetailing it with its own ambitious Jan Dhan Yojana to deliver the LPG subsidy directly into the bank accounts of intended beneficiaries. To signal seriousness of intent on reform, the government has taken the ordinance route — a controversial way in a democracy. But the federal spirit has been underlined and extended by the transfer of more funds to states. The PM’s many overseas trips promise to bear fruit, in the form of investment from Japan and China for infrastructure, for instance, and the civil nuclear deal with the US has been commercialised.
Yet, at the end of one year, Modi’s leadership and governance style have also invited questions about the capacity of his government to execute his grand programmes. Too much seems to ride on him, and him alone. The government doesn’t seem to be working to any systematic or long-term plan. While it looks intent on accomplishing individual projects, it doesn’t appear to be paying enough attention to the big picture. Some missteps will prove costly — the Modi government could have plucked the low-hanging fruit of the goods and services tax bill, rather than expend so much political capital on the land bill. It could have brought in urgent reform in the agriculture sector in a time of rural distress, instead of sharpening farmers’ insecurities over forcible acquisition of their land.
One year later, the Modi government must also train its attention on areas where nothing has changed, or worse, there is evidence of backsliding. The education system continues to be in disrepair, and there is unchecked tampering by government with the autonomy of higher learning institutions. PM Modi needs to address fears that the social and political marginalisation of minorities has grown on his watch, and apprehensions that his government is cavalier with institutions and impatient with dissent. The BJP slogan of a “Congress-mukt Bharat”, for instance, can be the war cry of a party in the heat of political battle, but it does not behove a party of government that must reach out to its opposition in the Rajya Sabha if it wants to get crucial legislation past Parliament. The government must use statecraft to bring consensus on contentious issues in the House, and outside it, instead of seeking to vault over critics and opponents by making direct appeals to the people through one-way communication campaigns.
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