All of India’s prime ministers who have served five years or more have a signal, transforming accomplishment to their credit. I will exclude Nehru from this list. Nehru was the maker of modern India. Indira had 1971. Rajiv computerization, Rao economic reforms, Vajpayee road-building, Manmohan Singh high growth rate. What does Modi have? The prime minister has some achievements to his credit. Sanitation. Swachh Bharat and Balakot.
But much more is expected from this messiah.
Covid has exposed that India is really a Third World country. Our senior bureaucracy is a mess. Our medical infrastructure too. Crony capitalism rules the land.
Corruption eats into our electoral system. The PM has three years left in his second term. If he takes even one issue and overcomes it, he would have done much to be remembered by. No one can deny success, or failure.
The Indian Civil Service ruled our land during the Raj. ICS officers were singularly devoted to king and country. Their country, England, not India. They were above corruption. Many did not even marry. They served England well.
The Indian Administrative Service has been in existence for three-quarters of a century. India still remains a Third World country, with more poor people than all of Sub-Saharan Africa combined. Clearly the IAS has failed.
It needs to be reformed, root and branch. A template could be Singapore’s. Singapore sends its best students to the US to study on full scholarship with a bond that they will return to Singapore and serve its government. Look where Singapore is today. Look where India is.
Many IAS aspirants spend years mugging up obscure history texts and pass the exam. But that training doesn’t prepare them to handle complex issues like health and energy. What the IAS needs is experts. Manmohan Singh had thought about bringing in experts laterally into the IAS, but his plans came a cropper. The IAS bureaucracy will resist any change.
It is too powerful and is making too much money, for example in receiving dowry when getting married. Modi has a bigger mandate than Singh for change.
But he too seems imprisoned by the IAS. His party doesn’t have much ministerial talent, so he keeps inducting bureaucrats into his ministry and gives them plum portfolios. India goes gaga that IAS/IFS officers are finally running the government. What India doesn’t realize is that the elite bureaucracy has always been running the country.
Let’s talk about crony capitalism. Everyone knows which crony capitalists are prospering in the country today.
But some of them prosper in every regime, whether the current one or the ancient regimes. Some have proudly boasted that the government is in their pocket. Let’s consider South Korea, a country that is now in the First World.
It too has traditionally been beset by crony capitalism. Its conglomerates, called chaebols, are renowned for crony capitalism. But these chaebols have transformed themselves and are conquering the world now. Take Samsung, traditionally a cement maker. Its electronic equipment is sold all over the world now.
The same with LG, Hyundai, Kia, and their goods. Which of our crony capitalists is producing goods that are sold the world over? They seem to be content with the captive market that is India. On to campaign finance reform.
Money is eating into our democracy. State funding of elections like in Germany is a must, but no political party seems to want that. Modi has the mandate to implement campaign finance reform. State funding of elections will loosen the grip of corrupt political parties on the system and allow honest candidates to stand for office for a change.
The US too has a corrupt electoral system. We must not follow its lead; we must follow Germany’s. In any case, our political system is parliamentary and much more aligned to Germany’s than to the American, which is presidential.
Finally, our medical infrastructure. Covid has ruthlessly exposed how bad it is. Our government hospitals are in a sorry state. Private hospitals are only for the rich and powerful. Modi had promised 100 smart cities at the outset of his first term, but that scheme has gone nowhere. In any case, it is much easier to build a hospital than an entire city.
Why doesn’t Modi build 100 new spanking, full-service, state-of-the-art government hospitals throughout the length and breadth of our vast country? When Covid came to India, he was the first one to admit that our medical infrastructure was much poorer than the American or the Italian and therefore he was constrained to impose a draconian lockdown.
India got lucky with the first wave of Covid and that once again breathed complacency into the system. And then the second wave hit and showed us what a sham our medical infrastructure is. So doing any of these: reforming the IAS root and branch, spurning crony capitalists and forcing them to seek pastures abroad, full-scale campaign finance reform, or building 100 spanking new hospitals would be enough to impose Modi’s legacy on India and breathe life into his government, which looks lethargic and listless today. And perhaps a signal achievement will guarantee his third term as well.
The writer is an expert on energy and contributes regularly to publications in India and overseas.