The Bharatiya Janata Party won the two “matches” ~ Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat ~ one, a clean sweep with an innings defeat inflicted on the main Opposition party, the other event in Gujarat turning out to be somewhat of a close fight. For Gujarat, a lacklustre performance by the BJP in the power-play (phase I) brought the man of the match Modi to play a cameo in the slog overs (phase II campaign blitzkrieg). He swung the match, overcoming the initial jitters that created a flutter, the stock market Volatility Index fluctuated in step with the score-board. Eventually, the BJP scored 99 not out, winning a rare sixth straight term in the state.
The rescue man, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told party MPs how the Gujarat election turned out to be a tough fight, far from param sukh (all comfort) that he had felt about election prospects in the state, when queried by a journalist a few weeks earlier. The urban areas (Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, etc.) helped the BJP sail through, while the Patidars’ domino effect almost ejected the party from its traditional Saurashtra strongholds. Almost three-fourth of seats in the Saurashtra region comprised the rural belt, where the Congress scored high. The BJP could muster only 23 of the 54 seats in Saurashtra. Its tally in 2012 was 35.
The salience of the Gujarat experience will, no doubt, be duly grasped by the ruling party for the ensuing 2018 battle in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, also in the four other North-eastern states ~ Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Meghalaya, preceding, of course, the vital 2019 general election.
Essentially it is the states and local bodies such as municipalities which actually deliver. And that is where the governance structure flounders most. The BJP needs to do serious soul-searching for the performance audit of the states and local bodies under its flag, identify successful practices in each entity… to be universally replicated. Simultaneously, the laggards should be made to urgently put their house in order in respect of selected schemes and programmes to yield the desired outcomes.
Obviously, the topmost priority for the states as also the Centre is to tackle the rural sector, particularly, the agrarian disaffection. It is shameful that farmers’ distress has been allowed fester, with hundreds of them snuffing out their own lives. How do the central as well as state governments, that pamper all their staff with frequent salary hikes and a slew of perquisites, besides insulating them with periodical inflation-indexed DA increases, leave kisans to face the devastating vagaries of nature? These include the erratic weather, rainfall, floods, market volatility, escalating input costs, and unstable trade regime. While the rural economy is sought to be provided a booster dose of investment in roads, water, electricity, and irrigation, the Prime Minister’s personal promise of doubling farmers’ income by 2022 requires a concrete action plan for farm modernisation, diversification and value addition of crops, logistics infrastructure, development of food processing, cold chain, besides fair price, and an effective insurance regime. Loan-waivers, now made a populist prescription, has been debunked by experts as no panacea.
It is a salutary development that people in urban as well as rural areas are increasingly aspiring for good education for their children. The generally deplorable state of infrastructure in government schools exacerbated by the dearth of teachers, apart from their incompetence and lack of commitment, compels families to increasingly opt for private schools which, in turn, become commercial ventures. Engineering and specialised courses in private institutions are enormously expensive. Skill-sets, generally outside the school curriculum, do not help the youth gain employability. Similarly, healthcare for most people has emerged as a serious concern. Inadequate facilities in ill-equipped and poorly maintained government hospitals compel people to look for private sector healthcare which has acquired notoriety in fleecing the hapless clientele. The Government needs to urgently and holistically address these two vital issues. It must step in first to transform the upkeep and maintenance of schools and hospitals, provide for essential infrastructure, and innovatively optimise their capacity, and, then, plan for time-barred expansion in these crucial sectors as the principal national agenda.
The Prime Minister, given his great political acumen, is not unaware that what was dubbed as the Modi tsunami in 2014 was a young, aspiring and impatient India voting for a rupture with the past, to sweep away the cobwebs of bureaucratic and political lethargy, and unleash country’s creative energies. He moved fast and, as some believe, extended the canvas too wide. He has had too much on the plate. He unveiled an avalanche of development projects and schemes, which perforce entail long gestation. For him, the long-term vision can ill afford to preclude short-term fixes.
For good effect countrywide, Modi needed to ensure some high visibility programmes to fructify by 2020. Instead of too many schemes, he needed to showcase few beneficial projects executed in good time. In this context, he may recall the fervour with which he said it was Maa Ganga who had called him to Varanasi (in 2014) and that he would pull her out of the filth. In spite of his full support, the flagship Namami Gange project languishes in lethargy and inertia as it has for 30 long years. With proper leadership and effective oversight, Ganga cleaning by 2019 itself could well have ensured credibility at home and beyond, instilled confidence and enthused people, generating enormous goodwill across the country and communities.
Ultimately, good governance is India’s most important requirement, and that’s where the country has floundered; deficient delivery has been India’s Achilles’ heel. No high level mega scam may yet be attributable to Modi sarkar, the haftas and the daily persecution of citizens continues unabated. Aam aadmi clutching at the hope of achchhe din looks confused.
The country’s civil service, a leviathan with immense powers, remains obese and bloated, alienated from the people. There is no change in the attitude of those who constitute the mai baap sarkar. In most states, almost three-fourth of all government employees are parasitical support staff, unrelated to any public service, while key public services such as education, healthcare are starved of people From a culture of sloth, the country needs to move to a habit of hard work, to raise productivity and generate wealth. As suggested by numerous expert bodies, a 30 per cent reduction in the size of the government, making the structure horizontal, merging grades/categories, pruning the current 5-6 administrative layers to not more than two will help move things much faster and make Doing Business easy.
Politics demands deft perception management. With his unique communication and marketing skills, infinite energy and ubiquity, capacity to take bold and disruptive decisions, Modi would keep bonding with the electorate, more so the youth and the disadvantaged. He will need to transcend himself from being only an astute politician, to rise and leave a stamp of statesmanship. Closely under his watch, ministers and senior officers need to often go where action is, to listen to people, understand their concerns, explain to them the real intent behind the policy framework, letting them feel that the government cares.
Nasty, atavistic manifestations of intolerance, myriad fringe elements among obscurantists masquerading as the Hindutva brigade often vitiate the environment, damage social harmony, and divert attention from the development agenda. They don’t realise how perilous their diverse reactionary overtures are, much like how Pakistan has been radicalised, virtually rendering it as a failed society. Modi needs to unequivocally signal his disapproval of all these divisive tendencies. His oft-repeated slogan of sabkaa saath, sabkaa vikaas must carry clear conviction through the party and the state. He must be wary of Margaret Thatcher’s warning that those who stand in the middle of the road get run over.
The writer is Senior Fellow, Asian Institute of Transport Management and former CMD, Container Corporation of India