The government has thrown many balls into the air and now it needs the acrobatic artistry of the cirque du soleil to turn them into a masterly act of jugglery. The Modi juggernaut roared into Delhi and immediately he was off the starting blocks. But as the year ends, there is a creeping sense of disquiet that the government has not quite mastered the art of the good governance it promised. But let us not be pessimistic. Let us hope that as the New Year comes in, the government will batten down the hatches and get down to the real business of the day, shorn of hype and expectation.
The BJP is on a political high at the moment. Its victory in Jharkhand and impressive showing in Jammu and Kashmir have given a boost to its dream of a Congress-free India. It is very easy to get carried away by this sense of invincibility. But in this lies many dangers. One is the fact that it has yet to deliver something tangible. Of course, it can blame a truculent opposition for trying to block legislation, but only up to a point.
Of course, all eyes will be on Arun Jaitley’s budget, which could turn the corner for the government. Providing, of course, that he grasps the nettle and makes the systemic changes that the economy needs. So far, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made all the right noises as far as the economy goes, but fine tuning such a behemoth needs quiet diligence, a willingness to carry political colleagues along, even the most bolshie of them as the BJP’s great prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, now honoured with the Bharat Ratna, did.
Now the Congress may be in tatters but it must be taken on board and its suggestions listened to. The only problem I see is that it is not coming up with too many right now, shell shocked by its defeats. But one of the real challenges for the PM and his lieutenants is the fact that many fringe right-wing elements are emerging out of the woodwork with their unacceptable agendas. One, of course, is the reconversion process. It would be easy to dismiss these antics, but they seem to have the sanction of the RSS, the mentor organisation of the ruling party.
Issues like reconversion, however marginal such groups who seek to do this may be, give India a bad name as a place intolerant of the great religions within it. It creates a fear psychosis and could even drive investors away. Religious rights have often affected business sentiment and we should not fall into that trap.
Modi has got a handsome mandate. He is in many ways a multitasker. So I must ask the question as to why he, with his vast powers, is not able to send out a decisive message that such intolerance will not work on his watch. But he has largely chosen to remain silent. And so have other top BJP leaders.
Vajpayee changed the face of the party, making it an acceptable moderate mainstream one. He never hesitated in going up and talking to an opponent, using his immense abilities to communicate to defuse a situation. Modi too can certainly do so. He should never allow the party that he pushed to power to lose this character of accommodation thanks to the actions of those outside the pale of democracy.
Where the PM has shown remarkable acumen is in his foreign policy initiatives. He has re-energised ties with the neighbourhood, making an effort to get away from our Pakistan-centric approach. Of course, Pakistan is not likely to take this lying down, but there was genuine enthusiasm for Modi in Nepal and among other Saarc leaders. He must also be given credit for putting some life back into relations with the US and Japan. But unless he can effect systemic changes at home, especially on the ease of doing business, we cannot reap the rewards of these initiatives.
So, these are foreign policy balls that are in the air for the moment. At home, while the government may not have changed the social sector programmes initiated by the previous regime, it has to come up with new workable ones and put its stamp on them. The Swachch Bharat campaign is a laudable one and it must retain its momentum.
On the subject of inclusive governance, the prime minister appears to be following the Gujarat model of keeping most of the decision cards close to his chest. This gives people the impression that even his key ministers are not allowed to exercise their judgement and powers. This is a pity because there are ministers in this government with vast administrative experience at the Centre whose expertise would be invaluable to good governance. But I hope that this is because these are early days. The real trick of governance is for the prime minister to lay down policy and then delegate responsibility. That way, things get done much faster and effectively. Modi is in a position which no one can challenge for the moment, so he should have no hesitation to be seen openly passing on more powers to his ministers and party colleagues.
I am only trying to point out some of the pitfalls that need to be addressed without delay for this mandate to deliver what India voted for. It takes only a few to give the government a bad name and this should be avoided. The youthful demographic of India has put its heart and soul into development, something it felt a creaky Congress could not deliver. It does not want a Hindu rashtra, the state peeping into its life, of wild and woolly people creating unnecessary fears. The BJP is in a commanding position today without the coalition compulsions, which had silenced the previous prime minister.
Public affections are fickle and the murmurs of discontentment must not be allowed to grow. The government must not let itself be sidetracked by those who speak in its name and are trying to implement a regressive agenda. And, it must create a level playing field for the corporate world, which batted solidly for it in the general election. The captains of industry expressed great hopes for this government. But the growth story has to get back on track now. It would be a wonderful New Year gift to the nation, which has been in limbo administratively for some years now to see policy follow Modi at the frenetic pace he has set. Chanakya wishes all our readers a very happy and safe New Year.