You might find this amusing but the thought that came to my mind on Mr Modi’s first anniversary is the more things change the more they stay the same. This may sound rhetorical but it’s also a revelatory truth.
This thought first struck me when Arun Jaitley explained the government’s position on FDI in retail. As he put it, the NDA government’s position is the same as that of the predecessor UPA regime. The policy has not been reversed. This is because government is a continuity and its policies cannot arbitrarily or suddenly change. Elaborating, Mr Jaitley made a telling point: the NDA was opposed to the UPA’s civil nuclear policy but not only has it continued with it, it’s built on it as well. Today Mr Modi calls it “the centrepiece of our transformed relationship” with America.
The same applies to FDI in retail. If companies like Walmart and Carrefour decide to set up outlets in India they will find the doors open. It’s another matter the government may not encourage or help. But permission to come and operate will not be denied.
You can find other examples to illustrate this continuity. Mr Modi has not only accepted the Aadhar scheme but made it his own and is today pushing it steadily forward. The same is true of direct transfer of the LPG subsidy. And the Jan Dhan Yojana is just a new name for an older UPA policy though, now, it’s more vigorously pursued. The UPA called it zero balance bank accounts. The NDA’s is a more catchy name. The UPA created 24 crore accounts. The NDA has added another 15.
If you recall Mr Modi’s rhetoric in opposition all of this looks like a U-turn. Digvijaya Singh even claims it’s grounds for dubbing Mr Modi’s government UPA-3! At the rhetorical level these taunts are justified. I’ve used them myself in several interviews.
However, if you think more deeply, what this reveals is a reassuring continuity in government policy. Two conclusions follow. The Government of India is an institution separate from the competing political parties that strive to form the government. It has its own commitments and, usually, they are adhered to. Second, politicians have the capacity to set aside positions adopted in opposition if the national interest requires a different stand.
This is not just welcome but reassuring. It means that power is sobering. The extreme positions of opposition are easily shed once you enter office. It also suggests there is a measure of agreement about what is good for India regardless of earlier opposite views.
You could claim there is a third conclusion that can also be derived from this: the responsibility of exercising power pushes parties towards the centre. This is why the commonality between the UPA and NDA, despite their shrill and polarising rhetoric, seems striking.
Mr Modi might not take it as a compliment if you stress that, in critical areas, his success is dependent upon the foundations laid and good work done by his predecessor. The Congress, on the other hand, will play this up primarily because they want to deny the prime minister original credit. That’s politics. Long may it continue. It’s part of the necessary banter of democracy.
The more important truth is that policies that are deemed necessary continue and the Government of India does not twist and contort because it’s subjected to U-turns or contradictions. For that, not just industrialists and investors, but we, the ordinary people of India, should be eternally grateful.
The views expressed by the author are personal