With the compulsions of populist rhetoric over, and a massive mandate under his belt, can Modi leverage the learnings from his first term to actually herald ‘achhe din’?
The Indian electorate has given a resounding victory to Modi despite being hit hard by demonetisation and GST, as they seemed to have not doubted Modi’s intentions of doing good. They well understood that it is not easy to get things done through the Indian leviathan state—sluggish, inept, self-serving, unimaginative and corrupt, with no sharing of appetite of being innovative and out of the box—traits around which Modi built his governance style and persona.
The Perception of ‘Babu-Dom’ Being the Usual Culprit, Came to Modi’s Rescue This Time
The aspirational new generation of Indians who backed Modi, have a huge appetite for economic progress and opportunities they wish to partake in, and for them, anything below a 9-10 percent growth rate will be akin to the old ‘Hindu rate of growth’ of the planned economy era. This will also ensure that the unoccupied hoard which unleashed much of the terror and rage over beef and cows can use their energies creatively by being productive participants of a resurgent economy. A ‘soft Hindutva’ is a reality one can live with as long as economic pie increases and no exclusion is practised.
Modi knows very well that this cannot be achieved without fundamentally changing the nature of the Indian state and how it works. The concession which he got this time from the electorate was due to the fact that the people understood the fact that not much can change during a single stint of 5 years.
So the image of Indian ‘babu-dom’ being the culprit, came to his rescue. However, the same concession may not be available the next time, and the unchanged ways of the Indian bureaucracy may spell Modi’s ‘babu-doom’.
Therefore, the initiatives which were not talked about are actually the most foundational ones. The lateral entry of professionals at the Joint Secretary level is one such endeavour which, if implemented at a desired scale, will bring a tectonic change in how the Indian state thinks and performs.
New India No Longer Needs An Iron Framework Of Administration
An interesting study of colonial administration I came across recently, looked at the opium cultivation in India for export to China by the British, highlighting the flaw in the welfare administration during British India. The study shows that the district collectors in opium-cultivating districts devoted more energies to the patta system, and to controlling, opium cultivation. As a result, the creation of schools and hospitals suffered, and these districts lagged behind in social indices compared to the neighbouring non-opium cultivating districts.
With the Indian Administrative Service officers dividing their tasks between policy-making and implementation in turns, not having a firm grip or attention on either, we, the governed, continue to suffer the same fate as the inhabitants of opium-growing districts of colonial India.
A progressive and resurgent India does not, any longer, need ‘an iron framework of administration’ which was required for establishing a fused Indian state at the inception of the republic, but a well-oiled, modern professional policy implementation and service-delivery machine.
IA Must Re-Imagine & Re-Fashion Itself
The very selection process of the IAS ensures that the ones being chosen have the skills to put across their point of view in a polished and convincing manner, with command over the subject. With the working domain perpetually shifting from one area to the other, this impression of ‘command over the subject’ becomes more of a personality trait of the IAS clan rather than the real grip over the domain knowledge, creating a problematic scenario of feigned expertise and the blind-siding of real policy alternatives.
Even in earlier efforts to infuse professional expertise in the form of advisers and through other executive capacities, they could never penetrate the firewalls of the collective joint secretary. Even the non-IAS players backed directly by the prime minister, had to throw in the towel.
Therefore, the first step should be to ensure that the IAS re-imagines and refashions itself as the Indian Administration Facilitation Service (IAFS) rather than the administrative agents of the British Raj with over-sized and ill-equipped roles in policy-making.
The Modi government 2.0 should focus, over the next five years, on the safe-landing of this most vital reform, as otherwise his signature reforms will fall short of the runway and crash-land during implementation, as demonetisation and GST did.
(Prashant Kumar is Immediate Past President of Lawasia, the Law Association of Asia and the Pacific and President Elect of the Bar Association of India. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)