Modi 2.0 Could Be Tougher – Quagmire of Bureaucracy Needs to End

“I largely support PM Modi, but I also note with dismay the inability to put a financial impetus together in time.”

Updated21 May 2020, 10:47 PM IST
Opinion
5 min read

This has been a tumultuous period for the whole of humankind, and has shaken up all the nations. All assumptions have been blown away. COVID-19, which some have controversially called the ‘Wuhan virus’, has turned our world topsy-turvy, and also PM Modi’s plans – the prime minister had begun his second consecutive term at a pace that had surprised many, including his foes. He was clearly a leader in a hurry.

Modi 1.0 was all about reaching out to the bottom rung of society and providing dignity to the poor – that which they had lacked during 70 years of independence. Every step PM Modi took proved to be a boon when the coronavirus outbreak happened. In the first term, it was also about putting India on the world map as a global player.

The quick stitching- together of the International Solar Alliance was a masterful response to the global warming lobby that has been trying to make developing economies pay for the sins of high-consumption developed economies. Modi ji created multi-lateral relationships with countries who were adversaries otherwise.

He could stitch together alliances with countries who were foes, and with whom India never dared to deal simultaneously, dropping Cold War doctrines.

He got defence deals going after nearly 10 years of near-lockdown of arms procurement. He assured the world community that India meant business. Modi 2.0 kept up the pace of foreign policy.

Bold Steps But Poor Communication

Modi 2.0 began by setting India’s narrative right, so far held hostage by the faux secular lobby. The boldest decision was nullifying Article 370 and scrapping Jammu & Kashmir’s special status, and the highly-discriminatory Article 35A. This approach dared to take an entirely different path from that dictated by the timid politics of 70 years. It delivered justice to the people outside the Kashmir Valley who were deprived of it due to games played by the Valley politicians. Every tactic of Pakistan was foiled aggressively. The Ram mandir issue, festering for years, was also finally settled through the courts.

PM Modi did not bow to pressure from various lobbies to take the legislative route. It was a good beginning.

The enactment of the CAA, an unfinished agenda of Partition, was a bold step. Though the numbers were small, it sent out a strong message to the world – and particularly our neighbours – that it stood by its former citizens who were persecuted for being non-Muslims in Islamic countries. The readiness to implement the NPR showed that the BJP was ready to take up the issue of illegal immigrants, trying to dictate Indian politics head on, though it was clear that it could be politically suicidal. For Modi, the nation came first.

Unfortunately, due to the poor communication of the government and the ruling party, the Left-Islamist axis was able to create a cacophony – of Indian Muslims being deprived of their rights globally – though it was as clear as daylight that the CAA was not against any Indian community.

Lopsided Approach to Taxation, Zero Benefits to MSME Sector

The other pain was the lopsided approach to taxation and the simplification of the tax regime. Tax concessions to huge corporates is not the issue. But nearly zero benefits to the MSME segment, who create more wealth and employment than corporates, was demotivating. The government had come out of a complex and accelerated implementation of the GST successfully, but attention to simplifying the lives of smaller businesses, who were pulled into GST due to the change in tax regime, was too minuscule. But overall, the momentum was still with the Modi government.

Bringing States On Board COVID Strategy: True Sense of Federalism

And then the coronavirus struck. His timely bold action endeared him to the people. His ability to get cooperation from the ordinary citizens, ably supported by voluntary organisations across India, made the world sit up and watch with envy – a comparatively better fight than most of the countries globally. After initial politically-induced hiccups, PM Modi was able to bring most of the states on board for a unified national effort against an impossible adversary. It was the true sense of federalism at work.

Migrant Crisis Partly Due to Lack of Timely Policy For Businesses & Industries

Though I support Modi ji most of the times, I also note with dismay the inability to put a financial impetus together in time, which has again shown itself to be the Achilles’ Heel of this government. While his delivery to the bottom of the pyramid through the direct benefit transfers (DBT) has worked wonders, the revenue-generating population has been left to fend for itself. The financial package 1.0 promised more and delivered less.

The migrant problem is partially due to the lack of timely policy for industries and businesses.

The migrant outflow towards the villages had begun weeks ago. Financial Package 2.0 was late by a month. Trickles became a flood, as the labourers realised that their bosses couldn’t pay salaries anymore, and that there was no definite end to the lockdown.

Now When Industries Are Likely to Pick Up, Where Are The Migrant Workers?

However, I do blame the states more than the Centre for this mess. Remember, both industry and labour have everything to lose, nothing to gain from this exodus. We know that fiscal policies trickle down slowly, and we are aware of the reluctance of bankers to advance loans to small businesses despite government directives. I had noted many times that delayed relief is like offering oral medicine when the patient has reached the stage of intravenous support.

Now, when the industries are likely to have picked up slowly due to Financial Package 2.0, the migrants have disappeared.

Who will build? Who will work on the machinery? The disturbing and heartrending images will not go away soon. People have so much faith in Modi ji that even the non-action of state governments will reflect on his working.

Stress On ‘Swadeshi’ & ‘Atmanirbharata’ Should Have Been Our Goal Since Independence

One good outcome of the coronavirus disaster is the push to major fiscal reforms that were on the back burner for far too long. The best parts of the financial packages announced by the finance ministry are about agricultural reforms, the impetus to agriculture, improving the food chain, and related industries. Let the tax simplification too become a part of reforms. I am sure these reforms will change the face of the Indian economy.

The stress on local (swadeshi) and self-reliance (atmanirbharata) are highly desirable and should have been our goal since Independence.

These principles are more relevant today as more nations raise bamboo or iron curtains around their borders to preserve themselves. It needs to be followed by action on ground, forcing the babus to fall in line. A government can’t implement swadeshi when consultants are videshi. Control of our economic policies must come back to Indians. The time to romance international experts is over.

How Can Work Get Done If Policies Get Entangled In ‘Babu-Cracy’?

Last, but not the least, this government must show its steely grip under the velvet gloves to the bureaucrats. No governing party can blame bureaucracy after 6 years in power. Just one example suffices to show how bureaucracy can kill any good government initiative. A responsible chartered accountant noted on social media that 4,119 circulars had been issued since the lockdown, of which many are clarifications – and clarifications of clarifications! It may be an exaggeration. But how can people work if government policies get entangled in the endless quagmire of babu-cracy?

The coronavirus is not going anywhere. People look up to the decisive leadership of Modi ji. I look forward to a harder task master, a more ambitious and ever-energetic Modi 2.1 in the coming months.

(Ratan Sharda is an author and TV panelist. He tweets @RatanSharda55. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Published: 21 May 2020, 09:25 PM IST
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