The devil is in the implementation
“Three years into the current dispensation in the state, I wonder at this government’s star achievements, all of which are in the offing and not yet off the ground”mumbai Updated: Nov 01, 2017 01:10 IST
You must take all your unpopular decisions in the first three years of your government. The remaining two years must necessarily be used for sops to cool public ire — but you have to take care that nothing goes wrong in this phase of implementation. “Don’t give the opposition a handle to beat you with it because this is the time they are looking for gaps to step into.”
That was Sharad Pawar speaking to me off-the-cuff on the Congress-led government in Maharashtra between 1999-2004. He had then thought they might find it difficult to return to power because they had accomplished nothing at all.
Three years into the current dispensation in the state, I wonder at this government’s star achievements, all of which are in the offing and not yet off the ground. But the perils of unpopularity are standing on the sidelines, waiting to rush in where the government might fear to tread. CM Devendra Fadnavis himself seems to be conscious of this fact for he recently said he will make no further announcements this year, his government will concentrate “only on implementation”.
But it is the implementation process that is proving a serious headache to his government. I am amazed that senior BJP leaders did not see it coming this year when some Congress and NCP MLAs were suspended from the assembly during its budget session and they promptly took off on a Kisan Sangharsh Yatra. It was a trap for the government — that Yatra had to culminate into something visible for the farmers and that could only have been either minimum support prices or loan waivers.
The state could have easily offered them the first but the second was always going to be a fractious task, even when implemented correctly. I think the CM had it right at the start when he refused to consider a waiver but leaders of the farmers movement, including those in the Congress and the NCP, proved a little too much for his government. I do not think they expected Fadnavis to cave in and implement the waiver so swiftly but there was always going to be a pitfall and I am surprised that the government fell right into it.
For the Congress and the NCP were not about to cede their territory to the BJP and Sharad Pawar has pounced upon the faulty implementation which now Fadnavis, playing the bad carpenter, is blaming on his tools - the bureaucracy and banks controlled by the two opposition parties. Now Pawar has labelled Fadnavis as “the most childish chief minister” he has ever known and torn him apart for his mistrust of the bureaucracy and the banks.
Even Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil has mocked the government by describing the loan waiver a case of “historic cheating” - neither party is going to allow the farmers to be even marginally satisfied with this government’s implementation of the scheme and alienating the bureaucracy does not help any. I remember when former minister Datta Meghe, a Pawar acolyte in a previous government, had complained to him that the secretary of his department (Food and Civil Supplies) was not co-operating with him and failing to implement the policies as he wanted, Vilasrao Deshmukh had laughed and said, “You need an iron hand in a velvet glove. You cannot whine about the bureaucrats or beg of them. You cannot dictate terms to them either. If you do not know how to lure them to your side to implement your policies, it is your failure, not theirs.”
Later, when Deshmukh became chief minister and I saw him working very well with a set-up put in place by the previous Shiv Sena-BJP government, I asked him how he managed their hostility. He said, “They are administrators at the end of the day and it is their job to implement policy - any policy. And policy is not their job. It is ours. You give them the broad policy and the freedom to implement the way they wish. You tell them you care only about the results. They get the message.”
Fadnavis, on the other hand, is beginning to alienate his bureaucracy. After the loan waiver went awry, he said, “The bureaucrats think they are ‘know-alls’ and that no body can tell them anything.”
Doesn’t really make for good implementation, does it?