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2015

One Year of Narendra Modi as PM – a realistic assessment

  • On May 15, 2014, as the nation waited for the general election results and it was almost certain that Narendra Modi would be the CEO of India for the next five years, I had recommended 10 things India’s new Prime Minister should do. With just over a year since then and the government about to complete year 1 in power, a lot has happened in the country.
  • Modi has traveled the world, his party, in coalition, has formed the state government in Jammu & Kashmir; BJP has had moderate successes in other elections but was routed in Delhi by the Aam Aadmi Party. Most visibly, the government, although having an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, is struggling to take the opposition along in the Rajya Sabha, where it is woefully short in numbers, and that has meant several important legislations are stuck.
  • The last point is critical, for a lot of what the government wanted to achieve, in terms of what is visible, is stuck there as several legislations can’t turn into law. Not surprisingly, the opposition, hopelessly outnumbered in the Lok Sabha, has milked the upper hand here by staying in news, often by cleverly pandering to common emotions to give a twist to an argument. But this is no picnic. It is politics, where such things are par for the course, so no point blaming the opposition. So, given the circumstances, and that things cannot happen overnight, the expectations too need to be realistic. So, let us look at how our CEO has delivered on the ten points raised a year ago.

INFRASTRUCTURE PUSH

  • POWER:The situation is better if you hear the minister. As he told this paper in an interview earlier this week, there is enough power now even though transmission bottlenecks are still a concern. However, the fact remains that the SEBs are a mess all over and he has no jurisdiction over them. His ministry is nevertheless seen as one whose work is perceived positively by the industry too. The rating therefore is bordering good.
  • ROADS:Given that the minister in charge of the sector is Nitin Gadkari, who has a more than decent record of delivering infrastructure as a minister in Maharashtra, things could have been better. Although the minister claims that the road construction is now up from 2 km/day during UPA government’s time to 12-14 km/day, and may reach 30 km/day in 2 years, the progress is not really visible. To be fair to the minister, the land acquisition bill being stuck is an impediment too.
  • And while it is a fact that you need land for any infrastructure project, be it roads or airports or what have you, the government has surely failed here by allowing it to turn into a poor vs rich debate. Strangely, the party which prided itself in its perception management capabilities, finds itself being cornered. The government’s attempts to address this issue academically failed, bombed rather. This is one area the government has to work extra hard. The opposition has milked it well and effectively, and the moniker that it is a government for the rich has struck, at least for now. The rating on infrastructure, therefore, would be good.

SHUN CRONY CAPITALISM, THROW OUT ‘PERMANENT FIXTURES’ FROM TOP LEVEL COMMITTEES

  • This is one area where things have, unfortunately, been the same. It is almost as if the country has only that many visionaries, the visionaries who have a lifetime right to the powerful committees that the government forms and they alone have the wisdom to solve this nation’s ills when they put their heads together. Perhaps the oft-repeated point of funding of elections is the reason. For, irrespective of who is in power, they need huge amount of unaccounted money and the nexus that entrenches itself in the system once, then feeds on it and invariably has more to give to ensure it is retained in the power circles. This practically shuts out the doors for any other entrant, who must join ranks with those already in and must play the games as per the rules already set. The rules that promote cronyism.
  • The performance on this count, therefore, is very poor and the sooner the government realizes it, the better it would be.

TACKLE CORRUPTION

  • There is a general perception that political corruption has gone down, a fact accepted by businesses too. But while that may have gone down, the corruption that touches the common man directly, the petty corruption, continues, be it police or government agencies and all else. It is this that made people believe that Arvind Kejriwal can perhaps help them with, resulting in that historic mandate for the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi.
  • Even as one says this though, the stories of the PM personally monitoring who all his ministers meet, and clear instructions to stay away from businesses and not meeting them anywhere except through official channels has been received well by most.
  • The interview of the BJP president on the completion of one year in office, that has appeared in this paper is of interest.
  • The rating on this important aspect, therefore, would be average to good.

IMPROVE HUMAN DEVELOPMENT INDEX

  • Too early to comment on this, but there is no denying that there have been initiatives galore, which, once they start showing the result, should result in a dramatic improvement. I particularly like initiatives such as Swachh Bharat and toilets for all and access to banking for all etc. One sincerely hopes that those who have to implement these schemes are as committed as the Prime Minister himself is. And above all, the common man himself has to realize what is in it for him. There is a long way to go still, but it is a great beginning. The rating on this count, therefore, would be good+.

HEALTH AND EDUCATION

  • It perhaps can be linked to the point above and there seems to be some work on this aspect. Once again, it is too early to comment, but Swacch Bharat missions and likes would go a long way in improving the general health.
  • Other than that, however, the increasing dependence on expensive private medical care is an issue that the government needs to look at. The common perception is that healthcare is going out of reach of the common man. For example, a story in this paper earlier this week, that a stent imported for Rs 25k is being old to the patients for Rs 1.55 lakh proves this point. And whatever is made available to the common man at affordable costs, is of dubious quality. So, the rating here would be average.
  • As for education, the sector, which is critical for nation’s growth, it has been in news more for the controversies the minister has found herself in than real work. True, it does seem at times that the minister is being singled out and is being targeted unfairly, but isn’t that something the government has to manage? And if her being made the minister was going to result in such issues, it should either have been predicted and steps taken, or someone else should have been given the task. The rating here too would be so-so.

BUILD A SCIENTIFIC TEMPER

  • Other than speeches and the stupendous success of our mars baby, Mangalyaan, there isn’t really much to write home about. Perhaps it is linked to how the HRD ministry has worked too. Also, some of the inane statements being made by some biggies are more folklore and less science. In that respect, therefore, the achievement on this count would be poor.

EMPOWER YOUTH

  • Perhaps early days yet, but can’t think of anything significant on this.

PUNISH OFFICIALS AND MINISTERS WHO DON’T RESPECT LAW

  • Although there have been instances of more and more ministers trying to lead a more normal life than a VIP, the PM has had more than the needed share of motor-mouths. In April this year, the civil aviation minister stupidly said he carries banned stuff when he flies because none checks him being a minister. First to do wrong, and then have the temerity to brag about it! The PM needed to censure him publicly. Not sure if that happened. And then earlier this week, union minister Ramkripal Yadav tried to enter the Patna airport terminal with his entourage through the exit gate. The CISF lady guard there stood her ground and refused. In a country where the ability to break rules is often equated with one’s clout, the lady did a great job. And if the PM wants his ministers to behave like common men, indeed their servants, what Yadav did was condemnable. Hope he takes him to task, strongly.
  • On this count, therefore, since there have been some ministers who steadfastly follow all rules, travel cattle class and even pay their own money when on private visits, I would rate the performance as average+.

DON’T SINGLE OUT COMMUNITIES

  • This is one area where again, despite the PM’s repeated assurances, the perception management has been weak. True, there has been some over-the-top coverage of some of these attacks and I think the political parties, and even media, are guilty of terming every act of vandalism as communal, the utterances of some ministers and party colleagues hasn’t helped the cause much.
  • Let us be honest, this is one area where Modi is being watched more than anyone else, and he needs to work harder at reigning in the so called fringe elements than he has done so far.
  • So, even though there have been no major flare-ups in the country, the inability to manage perceptions well would give him no more than average on this count.

RESTORE OUR RIVERS

  • A lot of talk with little to show on ground, except in Varanasi where, by every account, the ghats are better than they have ever been. However, our rivers are far more important than ghats in one city alone.
  • Again, however, this is a long term and by all accounts, there is seriousness. In fact, as reported in an exclusive story in this paper earlier, there is talk that the government may soon make polluting rivers a ‘crime’.
  • Having met a number of people, I can say that the seriousness on this issue is genuine and since this is a project that takes some time to show results, I would rate the performance here as good.
  • As I said a year ago, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The PM and his team have to show that they are here to govern, not rule. Fortunately, for the PM, that is a perception that he is good at governance has not deserted him, yet. But he surely needs to work harder at maintaining it. And after a while, people will go beyond perceptions and expect results on the ground.
Financial Management