Sunday, December 21, 2014

Making haste slowly - 200 days of Modi Sarkar

I was unapologetic about rooting for Narendra Modi  through his Prime Ministerial campaign – though I don’t consider myself to be either a ‘Bhakt’ , as Modi fans are snidely called, or a "Hindutva" die-hard.  Now even after 7 months of his Premiership I still believe he is the best  we could have had.  However, in the same vein, I am not an unqualified supporter of the BJP. In fact, one of the reason for my admiring Modi is that he has been trying to reinvent and re-engineer the BJP for the 21st century – while the Congress and other regional parties have been regressing under the pressure of pseudo socialism, dynastic and identity politics.

Looking back,  I am not at all disappointed with what the Modi government has achieved in 200 days.   Modi’s foreign policy initiatives were well calibrated, as he realized establishing his profile globally would be essential for him to be the leader of an aspiring super-power.  Besides, he needed to build personal rapport and strike a chemistry with his international peers – given the negative image over-hand  he was burdened with (unfairly, I believe).  The criticism about his foreign tours, I think – were more out of envy and for outsmarting both his predecessors and the self-appointed foreign policy specialists of the country.

Also I don’t think much more could have been achieved on the internal front. The quiet progress made on governance – improvement in the government’s work culture, empowerment of the bureaucracy and building of business confidence have gone largely unnoticed by the domestic constituency obsessed with big ticket reforms.  Far from being cynical, I see merit in his ‘making haste slowly’ and even appreciate the so called “U-turns” in policy – which only shows his courage to accept mistakes and eschew election rhetoric  to do what is right for the country and the economy.

Contrary to what popular commentators (for whom there is only Left or Right and nothing in-between) and the opposition still recovering from psychological trauma after their total rout would like us to believe – those who voted for Modi – do not necessarily see him as a Messiah with a magic wand. Credit them with the minimum intelligence to differentiate between election rhetoric and what is practical in a real politik. Therefore,  much to their disappointment,  #Modi is still high on the ratings in post-poll satisfaction surveys.  If further proof were needed, look at the by-poll results of Jharkhand and even J&K.  On the global front – he has made his mark - and  world leaders are falling over each other trying  to woo him. Successive studies have placed him at the top or near the top of the pecking order of high performing leaders in the world today.

Difficult decisions have also been taken keeping them below the radar.  Be it rise in railway fare or neutralizing some of the reduction in oil bills through additional excise duty. His critics have in hindsight seen merit in the way the WTO negotiations were handled. After a lot of deft maneuvering through choppy political waters - the government seems close to passing GST and Insurance sector reforms. Private sector participation in Defence equipment Manufacture and PPP in Railways already cleared. 

While leading foreign policy from the front (as any Prime Minister ought to do) – he has been making good use of Sushma Swaraj in opening parallel fronts (eg with Vietnam and SAARC Countries) and even co-opting the President in Diplomacy. Though not exactly in the realm of "external affairs", holding elections in J & K was hugely significant from a strategic perspective.

The lot getting restless are the industrialists and businessmen who expected quick returns and  the large Lutyens’ Delhi community of media folks and self-styled left-lib intellectuals – feeling ignored by the new dispensation. The latter especially should realize – governments aren’t made or unmade at the India International Centre. Even foreign investors and governments are more patient and willing to give the new regime to settle down and get over the carry-forward legacies of the UPA as well as the present political dynamics before pumping  gas on  the accelerator.

But, my disappointment with Modi lies elsewhere.  Before, the elections – he had loftily said : to win elections you need a majority but to run the country you need everyone’s support. This indicated that he would seek a more inclusive and bipartisan approach to governance. Then came his famous – act of touching  the ground before entering parliament for the first time - calling it the temple of democracy. But,  this spirit has been less evident  in the style he has displayed so far.

Let’s start with the Government first. The unseemly rush to replace UPA appointed Governors was avoidable – especially where professionals (retired bureaucrats or intelligence officers)  with proven track-record were holding the posts and had just a few months of their terms left.  This was followed by the LOP (Leader of Opposition) controversy – where certainly Modi could have shown more grace and a spirit of accommodation. Similarly, one might ask if they really needed to rush through the judicial reforms bill ?

One can always argue these are minor dots in the life of a regime, which are easily forgotten. But, it does sully the atmosphere and made the Prime Minister lose some of the initial goodwill with which he could have started his Parliamentary innings. But, perhaps, it was necessary to send out some early signals that this government won’t be a push-over.

Next was the stand-off with Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. Surely the Thackerays had to be shown their place but the snub was too hard and for far too long. Abject humiliation – even of an enemy doesn’t help – even if the old adage of grace in victory is now passé.

Obviously, Modi and Amit Shah are working with a road-map and blue-print – which only the 2 of them know and even the RSS can only guess. Part of the plan must be to take advantage of this neo-Hindutva wave and establish a pan-India presence for BJP. Therefore, the vengeance with which the Modi-Shah duo is going into hitherto uncharted territories like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, North East and even J & K – shows they want to free themselves from the clutches of a handful of regional satraps and opportunistic allies.  

Personally, I don’t worry too much about the antics of the so-called “fringe elements”. It’s only a matter of time before Modi brings them under control, like he did with Togadia in Gujarat, as he settles his equations with the RSS. Therefore, winning these states with low RSS presence would also be key to his establishing an unquestionable supremacy. For me – the bigger irritants and distractions are Modi’s own trusted Ministers like Smriti Irani making news for the wrong reasons such as declaring Christmas as “Good Governance Day”. And, I wish he didn’t have to yield to RSS and party pressure in making some patently inappropriate choice of ministers. But, concerns voiced by the self-appointed guardians of democracy – that “secularism” and India’s plurality is at stake are both exaggerated and alarmist.

I would argue that – even if it were not for these ‘red-herrings’ , a recalcitrant opposition would find other excuses for disrupting governance. But, they can continue to do only for a sort while more till BJP populates the Rajya Sabha with their own members from the newly ‘conquered’ provinces.

Till then the government needs to stay its course and carry on with the development agenda – steadily, even if a bit slowly.