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Why the reforms process in India is irreversible

At the HT Leadership Summit Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it clear the NDA government will continue to proceed on the path of reform irrespective of the ‘political price’ he would have to pay

editorials Updated: Dec 01, 2017 12:16 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes the inaugural address at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit  2017.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes the inaugural address at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit 2017. (Burhaan Kinu/HT PHOTO)

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on Thursday, there was a common thread running through his speech — a deep belief that the 2014 mandate he received was not to merely enjoy office, but to bring about a systemic change in the way India was governed, in the way the Indian economy was run, and in the way India’s poor lived. This conviction — that the system was broken and that he had to not only repair but transform it — appears to lie at the heart of many of the Prime Minister’s initiatives. And Modi made it explicitly clear that he would continue to proceed on this path of reform — irrespective of the ‘political price’ he would have to pay.

The PM’s speech gave an insight into how he saw the major challenges confronting India. One, the system was entrenched in corruption and for too long, little effort had been invested in stopping the flow and stock of black money and hitting at the roots of corruption. Two, the system — through complex and often contradictory laws, fragmented policy-making and an unresponsive culture — was impeding rather than enabling citizens to lead productive lives. And three, perhaps most crucially, the poor in India continue to remain deprived of the most basic of assets and facilities. If this is set as an interlinked three-fold governance challenge, a pattern is visible in the PM’s policy moves. For Modi, demonetisation has, in tangible terms, given the Indian state enormous data to investigate and scrutinise murky businesses and business practices but has also, more intangibly, led to behavioural change. Along with GST, it is forcing a formalisation of the economy, changing the incentives for the way the economy has been run, and introducing a more ‘transparent corporate culture’. The PM believes that Aadhaar remains a powerful weapon to add to transparency, say in property transactions, as well as improve welfare delivery. This ties up with his focus on improving lives - or ‘ease of living’ as he put it. Opening bank accounts, distributing cylinders, providing insurance at negligible rates to the poor; making the day-to-day administration more responsive to citizens; digitising the way we lead our lives are all steps in this regard.

There could be criticism over some of the policy measures this government has deployed. But there can be little objection to the objective of a cleaner, less corrupt, more responsive government; of sharper welfare delivery; of an honest private sector. A confident, determined Modi is unapologetic about his ambition and where he wants to take the Indian state and economy. Whether he will have to pay a price, or whether it will make him even more popular, remains to be seen.