100 days in control

An alert bureaucracy, a defined code of conduct for ministers and an information blackout marks the first 100 days of the Modi government. Big bang ideas are yet to come, but urban India remains upbeat

A month after he took over as Prime Minister, Narendra Modi had remarked that his government did not have a ‘honeymoon’ period like his predecessors. He was not wrong as the expectations were riding so high after his massive and effective campaign on the wrongs of the previous government that hopes were not just raised but stretched to a new high. Understandably, the first-timer in national politics had little breathing time despite his being one of the longer serving chief ministers in the country.

At the end of 100 days, a customary marker to know the direction in which a new government moves, the Modi government has a mixed bag to show for. Not in terms of big bang reforms as the entire nation generally expected, but in dealing with one aspect of administration which the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government became unpopular for, indecisiveness. It has, indeed, empowered and encouraged the bureaucracy to take decisions. Whether they are right or wrong, the bureaucracy has been assured that it would not lead to vindictive action or them being made scapegoats.

So, today you have the bureaucracy reporting to work at 9am and leaving office late. As one bureaucrat put it: “People are available. Whether they work or not is a different matter. There is a small qualitative change. But, it will take time to effect large scale changes in the functioning of a government machinery.” The critical point the bureaucracy feels happy about is that the government works through it. That is one of the most important shifts in government functioning that Modi has brought about. The political class, naturally, would not be happy about it because in a democratic set-up it would like to be in control or, at least, share it.

And, it is control that has become the most striking feature of this government. Control of what ministers should be doing and what they should not be doing. Stories abound of how a minister was told that he should not be going for lunch with a business tycoon or how another should have been in office rather than in his constituency. This control has extended to the ministers not interacting with the media as well because the Prime Minister might make a negative remark in their assessment form when he reviews their performance. He is more convinced than ever in directly talking to the people from the time the media looked at the 2002 pogrom negatively. In other words, a policy of information blackout, barring some insipid press handouts, has come into force without being called one.

But, this did not prevent the Prime Minister himself confirming, in a way, a rumour that he did not reprimand the politician son of his Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, over some deal. The rumour was allegedly circulated by a rival of the Home Minister. But that it should shake up the leadership shows how fragile relationship are in the top echelons of the ruling party. Could it be the effect of too much control over the system of one person? The answer to this question will come, though not immediately as it always happens in such controlled environments.

Nevertheless, surveys have shown that many sections in, at least, the urban areas, have a positive thing to say about the performance of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The positives have largely also come from the business friendly environment that his government has attempted to create to boost the economy. The business class, as was expected, has given a big thumbs-up because of an upbeat sentiment with investors opening up their purse strings. But there are sections within this class which believe the government has not gone the whole hog as it was expected to.

There is no doubt that for a machinery rusted with indecisiveness, it does take time to become a focussed and well-oiled machine which would work at levels of efficiency that the Prime Minister expects. He has left none in doubt that he wants to improve efficiency to a level that decisions are taken post-haste. But, how the bureaucracy should go about it, given the lengthy processes, still remains unclear. In fact, the state machinery lacks the capacity to meet up to the challenge of the new economy and to the efficiency levels that are generally expected by the people. Reducing the processes for decision-making without adopting short-cuts is something that the new government has not shown any evidence of, yet. Getting rid of the planning commission without deciding what kind of a panel will be the think-tank and a reviewer of the performance of the state and federal governments does not give a positive signal of any government’s thinking.

Nine or ten weeks is too short a time for any government to be assessed. But by all indications available, it appears that the government does not seem to be looking at the bulwark of democracy, decentralised decision-making. It is not only in administrative matters that this aspect shows up but also in the political management, a critical component. The question is what kind of an inclusive growth that the powers that be are looking at. If there is no inclusive growth there is very little that will help in development and boost the economy of the country. This is one critical aspect that, possibly, requires more time for the Modi government to act upon.

Potting in elephant dung

The Guruvayur temple in the southern state of Kerala has, possibly, the largest contingent of domesticated elephants. They total 59 and they are normally used at various events, including festivals at other temples. The temple spends millions of rupees to dispose of the two tonnes or more of dung that is generated by the elephants every single day.

Interestingly, there appears to be a solution to the problem of the temple. The temple board can, in fact, earn some money as well out of it. The Rubber Research Institute of India or the RRII has found a way of using elephant dung for a productive purpose. Elephant dung has been used as a potting medium to raise rubber root trainer plants. Its effectiveness has been found to be better than the coir pith that is currently used as a potting medium.

For a state like Kerala, which produces almost 90 per cent of the rubber in the country, the RRII’s discovery could help not just the Guruvayur temple board and other temples that own elephants in reducing expenditure but also help in the growth of the rubber industry.

It’s only an overdraft

Sometimes, it is difficult to understand expectations of the people. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a programme that helped the under-privileged to open zero balance bank accounts. The response was so good that a record number of 17mn people got to open accounts. Of course, there were reports of a few who already had accounts but were lined up by bank officials to open fresh accounts. The accounts carried debit cards (India’s very own RuPay cards) with an insurance cover of R100,000 (RO630 approx).

But, many people felt cheated because they did not find the government’s contribution of R5,000 (RO31.5 approx) in their bank accounts as was the ‘promise’. The poor people did not realise that an overdraft facility did not amount to the amount being deposited into their accounts.

Tailpiece

The entire week has passed by in the Indian media with the focus on the happenings in neighbouring Pakistan. But, an interesting tweet communicated quite a lot about why the current state of affairs are in the state in which they are in. It said: ‘If you stood up against injustice when Christians, Shias, Ahmadis & Sunnis, Sufis killed you may have avoided the situation today’.

Quite a telling remark. That is why social harmony becomes so critical to a nation’s survival.

SOURCE: MUSCAT DAILY