Preparing for the second anniversary

There is no dearth of editorials, surveys, etc., on the completion of the first year of government by the NDA government led by PM Modi. Of all the evaluations, I will pick a few to highlight here.

One is by Swapan Dasgupta. I seldom find much to disagree with him. This piece is no exception. It is an easy read. He calls it a good start. I agree.

Then, there is the piece by Shankar Acharya and everyone has focused on his observation that NDA government’s first year in office has been better than any of the ten years of the previous UPA government. I am particularly delighted by that statement. I do recall the fond hope that, at least after 2009, the UPA would be more purposeful. In fact, the descent into paralysis was swifter. Of course, Dr. Baru’s book, ‘The Accidental PM’ provides more than an adequate explanation.

On balance, I would also reckon that they had done reasonably well. I wrote as much in my piece in Manushi published after ten months of the government.

There was a big graphic in ‘Financial Express’ which is also available as part of this article by Pratap Bhanu Mehta in his analysis of the first year of the NDA government.  PBM cites loosely that many projects are not stalled because of land acquisition problems. Evidently, he has not done his homework on that. We will have something more to say on the statistical sleight of hand for which he has fallen too.

Yes, oil price decline was a boost but bad monsoons and unseasonal rainfall were not. Fiscal consolidation was helped by oil prices because the budget arithmetic was a big mess that the government inherited. Not many appreciate that. It is easy to be dismissive of the time required to fix inherited mess in many areas. In reality, these things take much longer.

Let us remind ourselves again: the alternatives for this government remain utterly dismal. None of them – and esp. Rahul Gandhi – have made us wistful about what we are missing. We still remember what we are missing from the previous ten years and we are quite grateful that we are missing them.

A simple framework because policy actions and omissions affect with lags:

NDA I sowed – UPA 1 reaped (good)

UPA 1 sowed – UPA II reaped (bad)

UPA I & II sowed – NDA (II) is reaping (bad)

NDA sows  –  hope they don’t let someone else will reap as NDA I allowed.

Post-mortems are only useful up to a point. There is a surfeit of them. Hence, it makes sense to focus on what should be done in Year 2.

(1) Ministerial clusters – it does not need Rajya Sabha approval. Even, bureaucratic clusters within Ministries. One civil servant wondered as to why there were five Secretaries in the Ministry of Finance. It creates turf war and ego battles.

(2) Co-operative Federalism – there should be more credible and concrete examples of this spirit in the coming year. Letting land acquisition be done by States and let them make their own rules; Read Shankkar Aiyar here on this. Read Nitin Pai here on how army-owned land can be freed up. The Prime Minister mentioned about the land that the Railways are sitting on, in around thousands of small train stations. Why is the Federal government sitting on Madhya Pradesh labour reform proposals? If there are legal risks, let the Madhya Pradesh handle it and learn. It is part of Federalism and ‘letting go’.

(3) BJP-ruled States taking Federalism down to municipal corporations, smaller municipalities and panchayats.

(4) Genuine, credible and final end to the arbitrariness and lawlessness of Tax demands.

(5) Institutionalising ‘Swachh Bharat’

(6) The health of the banking sector – no matter whether it is through recapitalisation or through reforms by stealth

(7) Tapping good officers and learning how not to send a demoralising message. Pulling up an officer for wearing sunglasses for all newspaper to splash them is not the way to go.

(8) Induction of more talent and experience in the Cabinet; Devolution within the Cabinet

(9) Scrapping of old laws and loads of them

(10) Last and the most important of all, Making Productivity a national obsession for the next decade

(Incidentally, can something also be done about competence, arbitrariness and high-handedness in the judiciary?)

I looked back at what I wrote soon after the government took office last year. I had listed five things: a white paper on the scorched earth the UPA government had left behind, not trying too hard to win over English-speaking (self-styled) elites, pride in India’s history, tradition and culture, avoiding hubris and self-deprecating sense of humour. These five were mostly cultural shifts in deploying the language and idiom of power. I cannot find demonstrable evidence of the five. Clearly, the government did not do the first of the five. The Prime Minister has come good partially on the second one. I am not sure if there has been any specific initiative on the third one. It is hard to find conspicuous evidence of four and five.

Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that the Prime Minister has been meeting Dr. Arun Shourie regularly every month lately. Coomi Kapoor in her article in ‘Indian Express’ mentions this today. That gives a completely different meaning to the interview that Dr. Shourie gave Karan Thapar for ‘Headlines Today’. In any event, it is good news for India well-wishers that the Prime Minister engages with a sharp mind on a regular basis.

The Prime Minister promised a Congress-mukt Bharat. We are not sure if we are there yet. But, certainly, a lot more needs to be done to rid India of the Congress culture of sycophancy. After all, we have had a British-mukt India since 1947 but we would not know looking at how the Income-Tax department has behaved.


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