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.