While Narendra Modi inspired India with his pre-poll speeches, he has not done the same with his governance, said Mr. B. S. Raghavan, former Chief Secretary of West Bengal and Tripura.
Initiating a discussion on “Modi’s two years in office and the five-state polls” at the Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation on May 28, 2016, Mr. Raghavan recalled how Modi’s speeches had deeply inspired people across the country. Decades after Nehru, in Modi, there was/is an extremely articulate leader with a shrewd mind of his own and the potential to radically change the country. In particular, he referred to Modi’s boldness and his ability to bring grassroots problems of the country to the focus in lofty platforms with élan, and mentioned the Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech from the Red Fort on the need to improve toilet facilities across the country as a case in point.
Mr. Raghavan explained how barely within a month of Modi assuming office, there were indications of lacklustre governance and limited imagination. There were no concrete measures that ‘really’ differentiated the new government from the predecessor. He stressed that Modi could have introduced some simple changes which could have gone a long way in improving governance.
He cited some issues where Modi could have “electrified” the nation and carved a niche for himself. A categorical call to abolish retrospective taxation, the setting up of a task force of eminent people to evaluate and improve the bureaucracy, and improving existing public services even without the introduction of any new and grand welfare projects would have made the difference.
Hits and misses
Despite this, Modi’s government has managed to achieve ‘traditionally’ good results in a number of areas. Citing a number of media sources, Mr. Raghavan explained that the 2015 evacuation mission in Yemen, Jana Dan Yojana which created more than ₹21 crore bank accounts and collected more than ₹37,000 crores as deposits, the Swachh Bharat campaign, including the partial restoration of the river Ganga, LPG reforms, India-Bangladesh land border agreement, and the Mann Ki Baat radio programme, among others have been hailed as Modi government’s key achievements.
Some of the Modi government’s ‘misses’ included the non-fulfilment of the promise of bringing back black money parked overseas, the worsening of India-Nepal relations, ineffective diplomacy with Pakistan, student unrest in various central universities and the delay in the passing of the GST Bill. Citing media surveys, Mr. Raghavan said that the public seemed to be split on whether they considered Modi’s two years in office to be ‘successful’.
Despite PM Modi’s apparent active foreign engagement and Manohar Parikkar’s fair performance in the Defence Ministry, India has not taken an assertive stand viz Pakistan or China. This is particularly disappointing, given that it was widely expected that the BJP government would set itself apart in this area. India has to make it clear to Pakistan and China that they will pay for their excesses, he said, something that it has consistently failed to do.
Mr. Raghavan felt that another huge problem was the fringe fanatical groups and individuals allied with the BJP that are creating problems through obnoxious and hyperbolic public statements. He expressed his bewilderment on Modi’s silence on this. Despite this, he made it clear that there is still hope for Modi’s government to get its act together and fulfil its potential within the end of this term.
Mr. Raghavan said that there has been no change in the general political environment in the country. He particularly bemoaned the continuation of what he called “crony politics”. One such practice is “activity without action”.
As he explained, politicians attack their opponents just enough to garner public attention and media coverage, but leave them unwounded without any conviction or actual investigation into any alleged crimes. Another common practice is the irrelevant pointing of fingers at others as soon as one is accused of any crime or misdemeanour.
On the recently concluded assembly elections in four states and the Union Territory of Puducherry, Mr. Raghavan observed that people had demonstrated categorical decision-making. Incumbent Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee secured a decisive victory in West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu was established as a two-party state — the ruling AIADMK with a majority and the rival DMK with enough seats to function as an effective opposition.
He optimistically described the election outcomes as the triumph of the discrimination, discernment and judgement of the Indian voter. “The lesson to be learnt is that the Indian voter is to be trusted. He has the advantage of a fractionally-distilled judgement that has evolved over 10,000 years.”
Responding to a question, Mr. Raghavan said that the nation could not do without the Indian National Congress because it is emotionally intertwined with the people, as a symbol of India’s resilience demonstrated by the freedom movement and as a repository of values that India holds dear. “There are certain self-corrective features in the Indian ethos that will come to the fore and eventually bring the Congress back to its feet,” he remarked.
This report is prepared by Raghav Ranganathan, Associate, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai.