Sunday, June 01, 2014

Agenda for the new PM

With the dust settling on possibly the most keenly watched elections in recent history, normalcy seems to have been restored. The country has a new head and a new party stormed home with an emphatic victory, the magnitude of it was captured by the little known poll expert team in Chanakya and not those big media conglomerates who tom-tom to have the pulse of the Indian public in every possible opportunity to do so. Apparently, their pulse is weak and shows them they are far removed from the stark realities of the country and they are well-advised to conduct only prime time debates(it can also be called shouting your lungs out contest) which in any case are losing popularity among the public.

So, the new PM is in town as is his new set of cabinet colleagues. Its as they call the honey moon period for the new government which normally lasts a year and then the public would start coming up with their assessment. Fact of the matter is, there is no time to be lost. Honey moons aside, the PMO seems to have got on to work, with the PM himself believed to be a man who likes to burn mid-night oil. His office has already given the 10-point agenda to the ministers and has been asked to come-up with 100- day action plan. For those of whom, who think this is something new, it has to be told, the previous government also did come up with action plans and 100-day plan but sadly the devil is in the detail. Its the implementation factor in which they came a cropper.

The point on minimum government and maximum governance, which was the centre of the PM's campaign, is on part fulfilled and the other contradictory. While one of the firsts decisions of the government to give maximum free hand to the bureaucrats, which was completely missing in the previous government, is very commendable, the proposed cabinet expansion in mid June with 25 more ministers, will only take the tally of total ministers to about 70, something same as the previous government, belies the very model of minimum government and maximum governance. Having said that, still a strong PMO which is very much what is it now,  might well crack the whip and get ministries working over-time and get things done on a faster pace. So, the veracity and efficiency of such a model might take time to judge.

Next big structural focus identified was the implementation of the projects, which was grossly lacking in the previous government. The fact is its not prudent to point on the Central government alone in this aspect. States have a major role as that is the ground level where the work happens. Now, the PM might want ot envisage a body which has all the CM's on board and expedite projects and their implementation. Its sure a very good idea and along with frequent monitoring and reward to states that do well, can be proposed to hit the ground running the state level. These are things which cant be done over night and might 2-3 years to fructify. Already we see many CM's queuing to meet the PM, but they must be told in no uncertain terms that they are the boss when it comes to implementation and center would all necessary to facilitate things. And more funds for those states which implement efficiently. This is a delicate point and centre cant be authoritarian but rather a facilitator in these matters. After all, we knew what happened to an authoritarian, wash-your-hands off approach by the previous government.

There are other big points like the Foreign investment, which the party ruling now has never been opposed to it except in retail, and so every effort would naturally be made to attract more foreign money and for that the bureaucratic independence and time-bound implementation of projects, ease of doing business which was talked about in the above are very critical. Ease of doing business, all point to retrospective tax issues which were a major deterrent for doing business and brought out quite badly by the present President of India when he was a the FM in 2009-2012. These tax issues have literally got the foreign investors run away from India. So, these issues will be definitely sorted out by the new regime, after all they seem to be  pro-business.

Then, there are usual suspects like reforms in various sectors, privatization of ailing PSU's, disinvestment, judicial reforms, labor reforms, bringing back black money, but all these are long-term projects, but the new government will do well to atleast start such processes. This will certainly boost confidence and acts like Direct Tax Code, Goods & Services Tax will go a long way in enabling those reforms. Financial inclusion through Aadhar and new bank licenses, linking Aadhar to maybe a large network of Postal offices, by giving them licenses for Private banking would all be tiny steps in the right direction.

So, while the honeymoon period is on for the present government, they would do well to spend it meaningful work and not wait till there is growing discomfort among the public. After all, they would do well to acknowledge the huge expectation and learn the lesson from the previous government, and the way they were thrown out with their performance. With huge expectation, the fall from top will be more steep than the ruling party in the last government, if they don't perform.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

India's watershed year

As the second largest democracy chugs along, no one from the population of 1.2 billion people would be unaware that there is something going on in the country. And yes, precisely that, the Indian elections. Huge posters, public meetings, TV news channels having a bumper bonanza year, talk of forgotten ideologies, political abuses, people queuing up outside poll booths to vote and interestingly politicians queuing outside Superstar's home for his word of acknowledgement. All that and much more makes you feel, we are well and truely in the midst of election fever(or festival, as some might call).

This huge festival goes around different parts of the country at different times within a span of 45 days in nine different phases with a huge expenditure of around Rs. 3500 crores. But, for all its hype and larger coverage, is it all worth it? Many would believe, its a huge waste of money as there is never going to be any change. But, thankfully, majority of the Indian voters are quite concerned and wants determinable development in their lives and only way is to bring about a stable Indian union.  

People seem to want a change and that too a decisive change, curiously similar to the elections in 2009, but the only difference is that this time its towards the opposition. Now, this piece is not getting into the debate of who is better for India in the next five years, but interestingly, the first time, the incumbent and the opposition bring to the table, two different ideological plans, one of development and efficient and stable governance and the other being, grass root change, empowerment of people, need for stronger Citizens charter etc; On the face of it, both seems to be need of the hour and something that Indian public richly deserves. Indian voter has always reacted to change that he needs, for example, a stable government was the need of the hour in 2009 and the present government was voted to power with a bigger mandate. That the government was marred by inaction and utter absence of development and governance is a different matter. That is precisely why the Indian voter seems have welcomed the development and governance plank showcased by the opposition.

Most people feel its high time a stable, growth oriented government should be deployed at the center and that is the reason the opposition sells the best available growth model of their state government to the Indian public at large. People may point out and rightly so that there are many state governments which are doing much better, but the fact is the opposition cannot endorse a  growth model of a different state which is not ruled by them. So, though the model might have flaws, people seems to like the model and hope a even better governance at the center. One of the main demands of the opposition is "You have given 60 years to one party, give us 60 months and see". Though this is getting the opposition huge amount of support, its the biggest gamble that they have taken. Five years down the line, if the opposition now is not able to give a better government,Indian people are wise enough to point out the same model and label it a failed strategy and may even vote them out. This scenario is perfectly possible, because the country is so big that all its varied and politically diverse problems cannot be planned, leave alone solving it in 60 months. So, i guess this a open minded strategy that the opposition has gone into, somehow to get to power, but its a strategy that might well back fire, five years down the line. The opposition hopes, their strong and decisive known PM candidate will steer the strategy cleverly that they would come to power again in 2019. All said and done, a government with a certain amount of decisiveness would be present for the next 60 months. Their success in all their promises seems quite a distant dream,anyway.

Now, to the plight of the present government. People are angry, not entirely because of corruption, non-governance, no development etc;. But they seem to be angry that the present government broke a trust showed by them towards the ruling party in 2009. The first stint of the present government from 2004-2009, was a government which came to power with a lesser mandate, but had done an above average job, coming out with flying colors in its steering of the economy, its resolve in Indo-US nuke deal, Rural employment guarantee scheme etc, which caught the imagination of many people. The government went to polls again in 2009 and showcased the achievements and said if we can do these with lesser mandate, give us a even bigger mandate and we would take India to next level. People trusted the combine and gave a bigger mandate and we all know how bad the performance has been in last 5 years. People are angry due to this breach of trust, where they were showed a rosy picture ahead and were deceived. The present opposition should do well to remember this and not over promise.

Its also good for the party which was in power for 10 years, to spend some time in the opposition. The young leader of the party, talks of grass root change, primaries for candidate selection, empowerment of down trodden and  strengthening the party. These are at the face of it, game changing ideas and there is no reason to believe it wont be done as some of the ideas have already been done by him in the youth wing. Some among the social media, seem to make fun of the well publicized interview of his, but the person was very clever in sticking to the point and spoke of larger picture, because he very well knows, promising high and not delivering will only end up in his downfall. But, his ideas if implemented would change the politics in a larger way.

Finally, Indian voter, seems to be gone all out for the immediate burning issue of governance and development, but, we have to be always aware that the voter will always never forget the larger picture. Governance and development seem to be issue for these next 5 years, as was stable government,  the issue in the previous 5 years. All said and done, whoever is in the opposition and in the government, people will hope the parliament functioning is not stalled as so badly in the previous 5 years and that is completely in the hands of both the opposition and the government.