Author : Niranjan Sahoo

Issue BriefsPublished on Aug 14, 2019 PDF Download
ballistic missiles,Defense,Doctrine,North Korea,Nuclear,PLA,SLBM,Submarines

India’s governance challenges: Setting an agenda for the new government

As Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 with an unprecedented mandate, he made a promise to deliver inclusive governance (“Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas”). Prior to that, during the campaign, he had coined the catchphrase, “minimum government and maximum governance.” This classical liberal idea of limited government — long known in the West — aroused curiosity amongst the electorate. Many perceived this as a pro-growth and good governance move that would gradually take the state away from controlling social or economic policy, or both — in other words, “the running of business.” He took the prime-ministership armed with the credential of having provided a distinct governance model for Gujarat, a state he governed for three consecutive terms during 2001–14. There were huge expectations, therefore, that the same may be extended to all of India.

Upon assuming office in May 2014, the Modi government introduced noteworthy initiatives, including legislations meant to improve the country’s business environment and policy ecosystems (such as the Bankruptcy Code, the Goods and Services Tax or GST, and the anti-money-laundering law). It also launched the ‘Make in India’ initiative.

The new government also took a bold step towards resetting Centre-State relations by implementing the most radical recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission (amongst them, the provision for a record 42-percent transfers to states). The six-decade-old, Nehruvian Planning Commission was abolished, replacing it with the think tank called the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), that would, according to the government, usher in an era of “cooperative federalism.”

Indeed, Prime Minister Modi’s first term has proved to be eventful in terms of governance and political reforms. Some of the most notable policies of those five years include demonetisation to eradicate black money (albeit controversial, with many analysts calling it a major failure); electoral reforms, in particular the implementation of the electoral bonds scheme; and urban reforms, including the launch of the Smart Cities Mission. The government of 2014–19 also implemented administrative and civil service reforms, such as allowing lateral level entry in the bureaucracy, e-governance, and a new law governing affirmative action.

This report examines whether or not these reforms truly made a difference in India’s governance ecosystem; and if they did, in what manner. The report outlines the successes and failures, highlights the lessons learnt, and recommends a governance agenda for the new government.

I open this compendium with the chapter, The Promise of ‘Minimum Government and Maximum Governance’: A Reality Check. The piece offers a critical appraisal of the Modi government’s first-term performance on various governance parameters. It argues that while the government has improved the country’s business environment, statist tendencies have grown with equal flourish.

Sidharth Kapoor, in the second report, Cooperative Federalism in India: A Road Less Travelled, finds that the Modi government began well by abolishing the centralising and socialist-era symbol, the Planning Commission, and taking the courageous step of allowing greater devolution of revenues to states. However, the government also showed its centralising instincts in key policy arenas.

Maya Mirchandani follows with the third chapter, India’s Flawed Democracy. She makes the case that during Modi’s first five years, India witnessed an erosion of its democratic values, and calls on the new government “to publicly declare an agenda for democratic renewal.”

Gautam Chikermane then examines the institutional landscape in the fourth chapter, A Discourse on the Challenges of Institution-Building. He says the new government must “rethink institutions, their structures, outcomes and evaluations, while being cognisant of the fact that building a perfect institution is an exercise in shifting sands.”

In the fifth chapter, The Parliament, 2014–19: Weighed and Found Wanting, Kanchan Gupta examines the productivity of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. He suggests entry points for reform to make Parliament more efficient and effective.

Ramanath Jha then reviews the administrative and bureaucratic reforms undertaken during Modi’s first five years, in his chapter, India’s Civil Services: In Need of Urgent Reforms. He deems the changes initiated by the government — including the much talked-about lateral entry — as merely India’s Governance Challenges: Setting an Agenda for the New Government “modest.” He recommends a more fundamental transformation to make the civils services more accountable and efficient.

The report closes with Electoral Reforms 2014–19: Lost Opportunity. Niraj Tiwari and I analyse the key electoral reforms introduced by the Modi government to address issues of transparency and accountability in India’s governance ecosystems. While the government showed serious intent to clean up black money with demonetisation, its subsequent steps — such as the introduction of the electoral bonds scheme and the dilatation of corporate and foreign funding laws — have made India’s electoral system even more susceptible to external influence.

This report does not claim to cover all aspects of India’s governance challenges. Yet, the effort is no small measure; after all, these analyses focus on some of the most pressing public-policy challenges facing India, and seek to contribute to the highly important discourse on governance.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


Niranjan Sahoo

Niranjan Sahoo

Niranjan Sahoo, PhD, is a Senior Fellow with ORF’s Governance and Politics Initiative. With years of expertise in governance and public policy, he now anchors ...

Read More +