Putting steel back in the PMO is risky but much-needed | india | Hindustan Times
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Putting steel back in the PMO is risky but much-needed

How will history judge Narendra Modi’s first six months as Prime Minister? It is likely history will not bother at all, and will instead place emphasis on the successes and failures, the advances and setbacks, of a longer time frame such as a composite five-year term, writes Ashok Malik.

india Updated: Nov 26, 2014 01:57 IST
Ashok Malik

How will history judge Narendra Modi’s first six months as Prime Minister? It is likely history will not bother at all, and will instead place emphasis on the successes and failures, the advances and setbacks, of a longer time frame such as a composite five-year term. Yet, the unforgiving nature of the news cycle necessitates an immediate assessment as well.

Perhaps the most singular point about May 26, the day Modi took office, is that it doesn’t appear to have been six months ago but in some distant time in the past. He’s slipped in naturally, without anybody quite noticing this is actually a first-time MP we’re discussing.

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Of course, his experience as Gujarat’s chief minister has helped. Having said that, the Indian prime ministry, like the American presidency, is a job you can spend a lifetime preparing for and still not be ready to do when you get it. In these past 180 days, there must have been moments when Modi was flummoxed or overwhelmed. To his credit, he hasn’t shown it. In a sense, this has been his biggest achievement.

This is particularly noteworthy because of the manner in which he has exercised power. Unlike PV Narasimha Rao, Modi’s first six months haven’t been marked by an economic policy blitzkrieg. He has been more gradualist in his approach, and the promise of big-ticket reform has been pushed to the coming three months, from the winter session to the Budget at the end of February 2015.

Unlike Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Modi’s first six months haven’t been marked by a dramatic action such as the Pokhran II nuclear tests, which both galvanised domestic opinion and represented an audacious foreign-policy gamble (that eventually paid off).

Unlike Manmohan Singh, Modi’s first six months haven’t been marked by the swift and easy return of an old establishment and a purge of ruling party non-favourites. The UPA government that took charge in May 2004 changed secretaries in key ministries and filled crucial diplomatic jobs in a matter of hours, not weeks. In contrast, the much-expected Modi purge hasn’t happened.

Nevertheless Modi has managed to make an impact and put his stamp on Delhi. He had done so by restoring the authority of the prime minister’s office (PMO), and establishing it as the fulcrum of the Union government. This authority, even aura, had been lost in the past few years, as the Manmohan Singh regime crumbled.

In putting the steel back in the PMO, there is a risk of centralisation and of initiatives of the government going ahead only when the Prime Minister himself takes account. On occasion, this has happened with the Modi government, and maybe a balance will be reached in the next 12 or 18 months. For the moment, though, few are complaining. The government’s diverse stakeholders are just glad a final arbiter and a court of last appeal have taken charge.

(Ashok Malik is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal.)