Two cheers for the end of policy paralysis | columns | Hindustan Times
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Two cheers for the end of policy paralysis

The passage of the Aadhar Bill and the Real Estate Bill mark a new phase in policy-making. But the GST Bill still faces hurdles, and social unrest on bigotry is a major issue that could hurt the economy

columns Updated: Mar 19, 2016 20:38 IST
Chanakya
chanakya

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives at opening ceremony of World Sufi Forum(PTI Photo)

We have been so influenced by the noise that passes for news at prime-time on television and the echoes it generates elsewhere that we have become immune to some good things that come our way. While the nation fervently discussed the visual drama unfolding on the banks of the Yamuna in Delhi in the form of the World Cultural Festival hosted by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the environmental concerns it generated, the Lok Sabha passed the Aadhar Bill. No doubt it raised its own controversial trail as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s NDA government packaged it as a money Bill to escape its fall in the Rajya Sabha, where it is in a minority. It understandably got a snub with Congress-led amendments in the Rajya Sabha, but was nevertheless passed again in the Lok Sabha. Beyond its histrionics lay the simple fact that a brainchild of the Congress-led UPA government championed by technology leader Nandan Nilekani had found support in an administration that prides itself on a march towards a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’. Thank god for small mercies!

What is the use of political will if it cannot be used once in a while! We can ignore the carping over loss of privacy and abuse of Aadhar, and celebrate the idea that the Bill paves the way for the creation of the world’s largest biometric database that would carve an easier path to better governance.

Read | Aadhaar now a reality: All you need to know about the Bill

Also last week, Parliament passed the Real Estate Bill, which came to the Lower House from the Upper House. The milestone legislation will make it easier for consumers to make safer purchases and hold builders accountable. This, combined with the impending arrival of real estate investment trusts and a softer interest rate regime, could well lift the struggling real estate sector from years in the doldrums.

Now is the time to look back at nearly two years of Mr Modi in power. I would safely say that we are well over the ‘policy paralysis’ — the fashionable term coined during the UPA’s second term by industrialists worried over a lack of movement on growth-oriented measures. It has been a difficult eight years since the Wall Street collapse of 2008 — what with corruption scandals, political acrimony, elections and a tangled mess of policies that needed straightening. I am so glad much of those troubles are over.

We have now put behind the confusion generated by the spectrum scandal and the coal scandal with new policy frameworks in place. Banks have to step in to revive credit growth and they still have a long way to go. However, the Budget’s allocation of `25,000 crore to replenish the capital base of banks, and the constructive meeting between RBI governor Raghuram Rajan and Union finance minister Arun Jaitley, give hope that things are on track. If distressed loans can be bought over by asset reconstruction companies that were given a boost in Mr Jaitley’s Budget, the path for revival looks pretty clear, despite nagging concerns over contracting exports and economic woes in various parts of the planet.

But it is too early to use the ‘Achhe Din’ label the government promised. It is still an IOU that Mr Modi has to honour. A slew of brandname schemes including the Jan Dhan Yojana, Smart Cities, Digital India and Make in India need ground-level action to make things happen. It would take more than clever speeches for people to be truly won over.

I think there is a lot that the Modi government can be satisfied about, but there is also a contrast that I worry about. Whatever the achievements, politics is also about perceptions, and it certainly is not just about economics. Perceptions also have a way of affecting the economic mood when it is about the social atmosphere. The row in JNU has raised fundamental questions on freedom of speech, while controversies linger across the nation over issues such as beef-eating and vigilantism. The latest furore over the ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ slogan has only queered the pitch for those who believe in positive constitutional politics. The assembly elections in West Bengal, Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu may well see the rise of polarising political speeches that may create social rifts. I am guessing this from experience and I won’t mind if I am proved wrong. In fact, I might become happier if my fears don’t come true!

Can a government rolling out the red carpet to foreign investors and wooing sovereign wealth funds with overseas road shows for infrastructure funding afford to flirt with divisive innuendoes in its election campaigns? Would it be too much to ask the Sangh parivar to change not just its khaki uniform but its mindsets to reflect the modern mood that

Mr Modi seems to promise on the economic front? Some positive hints did come last week, when he praised Islam’s tenets of peace and harmony at the World Sufi Forum — and the bigger surprise was an RSS leader saying that gay sex was a personal preference. Can this spirit percolate to election speeches?

Read | Allah’s 99 names, terror: What PM Modi said at World Sufi Forum

On the ground level, the virtual crackdown on foreign-funded NGOs is in sharp contrast to a welcome board for FDI. Two wings of the famed North Block seem to be at loggerheads. It pays to remember that the civil society organisations in Western democracies do play a role in policy-making and influence the course in India. I would expect the finance and home ministries to be in a higher state of harmony than they seem to be in now.

Environmental concerns are more important than one can imagine. The UPA 2 government swung from one extreme to the other in managing environmental approvals. NDA 2 needs to do better than that and strike a middle path.

As we take a break in the Budget Session of Parliament, the social ferment underlying politics does pose a subtle threat to the international image of India as an investment destination. The world is watching Mr Modi the administrator, not politician. He has to fine-tune himself and influence his party machinery. I can’t see them swimming separately to success!

Read | Jaitley hopes numbers change in RS will allow GST bill passage

Beyond the done deals, there is the big issue of the GST Bill. We may call it the winning shot in the match that might truly end a long spell of policy paralysis. Will Congress lick the wounds it suffered in the Aadhar Bill episode? Will it play spoilsport in revenge? Can Arun Jaitley, whose style does enable work to be done in parliament amid all the acrimony, actually deliver on the landmark legislation? As we watch matches in the T20 World Cup, some fine strokes may be in order on the GST front.Beyond the done deals, there is the big issue of the GST Bill. We may call it the winning shot in the match that might truly end a long spell of policy paralysis. Will the Congress lick the wounds it suffered in the Aadhar Bill episode? Will it play spoilsport in revenge? Can Mr Jaitley, whose style does enable work to be done in Parliament amid all the acrimony, deliver on the landmark legislation? As we watch matches in the T20 World Cup, some fine strokes may be in order on the GST front.

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