• Tuesday, October 21, 2014

SUNDAY POUCH

Where is Modi Sarkar ?

Ashfaqur Rahman

Like a new celebrity occupying the biggest house in the neighborhood, Bangladesh and all of India's South Asian neighbors are keenly following each day in office of the new Indian Prime Minister. Everyone is looking forward to see euphemistically whether this big house lawns are being pruned, its wall painted and its windows cleaned. Once India is again organized, the neighbors would be confident that India can give the economic leadership and the region can move forward. Modi has already stepped into the 89th day in office. Once he crosses the 100 days in power, analysts will start evaluating his performance. To date there is not much to see on the ground. There is not much action but indeed as reports go there is a lot more planning and preparation taking place to put Modi's electoral commitments to work. The big question is where exactly Modi sarkar has started working.

So what has Modi been doing for so long ? Interestingly he seems to be doing more listening than talking or acting. He has brought all the Secretaries in the central government to come to him every afternoon and tell him why the previous Congress led government could not deliver. What were the difficulties each Ministry faced in implementing the political agenda of the previous government. In fact they candidly pointed out that India's growth and governance collapse in recent times had two dimensions. First the Congress derailed the economy by its populist policies. It spent too much on social programs which pushed the Indian economy into a corner. Secondly, the Congress led government took all steps with an aim for electoral gain. This combination of actions put India in a vise like grip. It could not gain in populism nor could it benefit electorally.

But now with Modi coming in with a thumping majority in the lower house, he can behave as a political stabilizer. He can attempt to introduce some bold reforms. However, big ticket reforms will need more than mere gumption. He has to repeal the 'dangerously anti industry land acquisition law' enacted in 2013. He has also to do away with social programmes which involve huge outlays by the government. So far Modi has not shown any signs that he is taking these major decisions .Perhaps he is looking at these propositions more closely. But Modi has to remember that time is of essence. He must think of reinventing the wheel than learning on the job. The delay could prove costly to him.

Modi Sarkar had so far no 'honeymoon period'. He regrets this and has tweeted so to his myriad followers. By now Modi has tweeted more than 100 times. This is a new way that any Indian Prime Minister has reached out to his supporters through the social media. Modi says that in the short period of nearly 89 days he has come up with 'road maps' for the various ministries on the basis of his personal interactions with the officials. In the process he has also discovered in-built rivalries of each Ministry with others and how such rivalries has spilled over to the courts and stymied the smooth functioning of the government. He expressed his disappointment in his Indian Independence Day speech from the Lal Killa.

In that inspiring speech, Modi also made one important announcement. He decided to scrap the Indian Planning Commission. He found it as a relic of the Soviet command economy which ran as a parallel Finance Ministry. It conceived Five Year Plans for India but scuttled flexibility and resilience of this gargantuan economy. He promised to revamp it and perhaps redesign it as a government think tank. But does that mean that Modi is taking steps to further liberalize and open up the Indian economy. But Modi's other utterance like 'Come, make in India' to foreign investors is just a slogan for attracting foreign investors. Everyone will be waiting to see what other policies to follow that will pull foreigners to its shores. Modi has first to use his talons to pull out the rotting policies that had pushed India to economic collapse in the past.

Modi is one Prime Minister of India who has met many world leaders in the first two months he has been in office. At the end of six months he will have met American, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Australians and of course all SAARC leaders including our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Modi will meet the Japanese Prime Minister Abe in September. China's President Xi Jingping will visit India soon after. Modi will meet US President Barack Obama in Washington soon after the Chinese President visit concludes. So by year end Modi should be able to frame his foreign policy options and his military strategy at one go.

It is quite relevant to Modi to tackle a few isues that affect the daily life of Indian citizens as well as Indian businessmen. The first is of course the price rise. Modi needs to keep prices in check so as to provide relief to the common man who have voted him to power. He also knows that once he is able to do it he will provide the Indian central bank space to lower interest rate and to jerk the economy forward. Modi is also keen to end all legal and illegal forward trading in food items. He thereby wants his government not to face sensitive issues that may affect his government's image.

The Prime Minister is therefore sharpening his tools to tackle serious issues within his government and what may come before him in future. Modi is no rebel and while he sits and work within the broad frame work of his government his first 100 days has shown us which way he is likely to go in the future. Definitely he is not to rock the boat unnecessarily. But Modi should not also forget that the Indians as well as the countries in the neighborhood are impatient. They expected dramatic changes and bold reforms. But that unfortunately needs to wait. But how long would that be is a matter for Modi to arrive at a fine judgment.


The writer is a former Ambassador and a commentator on current affairs.
E-Mail: ashfaque303@gmail.com

Published: 12:00 am Sunday, August 24, 2014

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