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Time for Modi-fication

Time for Modi-fication
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Time For Narendra Modi-Fication. Earlier this month at a seminar involving India-watchers at home and abroad, a member of the so-called -'strategic...

Earlier this month at a seminar involving India-watchers at home and abroad, a member of the so-called 'strategic community' linked to the previous UPA Government proffered a curious insight into the nature of change brought about by the Narendra Modi government which has just completed a month in office. According to the 'expert,’ the new government came into office with a baggage of ideas that ranged between the adventurous and the outlandish. However, after assuming office and being briefed by those in the know of things, it has become suitably socialised.

There is no need to mock this seemingly self-serving assessment. Many of the ideas a party (and those in its ecosystem) holds in opposition are a consequence of both beliefs and an outside view. The opaque culture of governance does not permit opposition parties to be aware of the totality of information that facilitates decision- making in government.

Consequently, many of the positions taken in opposition often tend to be more of certitudes and less nuanced than those who are privy to the information systems of the state. To that extent, modification of earlier held views is not only necessary but even welcome.

The last thing a country can afford is ideological pig-headedness.

Yet, despite being aware of the need for necessary shifts, I must confess to being slightly uneasy with the smug assessment of the 'expert': that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Is the Modi government, its well-wishers may well ask, going to be another variant of the old Congress system, albeit with less dishonesty and more decisiveness? It is reassuring that Prime Minister Modi has addressed some of these concerns in his communication on the occasion of the first month in power.

Yes, he has admitted, there are people both within and outside the government, who are averse to unsettling the status quo. But he is personally committed to change and will do his bit to ensure that its momentum is not arrested. Cynics may well argue that lofty pronouncements mean nothing unless they are translated into reality. At the same time, this communication is important if only as a reminder that the PM has not forgotten the larger political message of the 2014 election verdict. The Indian electorate broke the electoral mould because they didn't want continuity. Instead, they wanted Modi to begin writing a new chapter of the Indian experience.

Those who were taken by surprise at the election results have already recovered from their initial shock and are getting ready for their next big project: the defanging of Narendra Modi. This is not because these are evil people who are determined to let India languish at the bottom of the international pile. It is because there exists an institutionalised bureaucratic inertia that deters people from wanting to do things differently.

I recently met a Secretary in the Government of India occupying an important position and asked him about Modi's plan to streamline and even downsize ministries. He smiled benignly and retorted that for every department the PM imagines is redundant, two more will probably be set up, thanks in no small measure to ministers who are likely to be more malleable to babu pressure.

The top bureaucrat wasn't wrong. There are many politicians who have realised their dream of becoming ministers, not because they have a burning desire to achieve something tangible, but because they love the paraphernalia accompanying power. To them, the red beacon on the white Ambassador car and the two pilot vehicles is a display of political clout that in turn leads to even more clout. The BJP may have less in their ranks of people who have such an ornamentalist view of politics – most Congress functionaries appear to have been born into it – but the disease exists nonetheless. And with time, the disease kills off every iota of desire to usher in reform or change, unless there is an apparent collateral benefit.

However, practice has demonstrated that governments are most effective either when there is a motivated minister heading a department or there is a leader who is passionately driven. A combination of the two is ideal but until the time the entire political process changes for the better, India will have to settle for top-driven change. The electorate knows this and it is why it voted for a 'Modi sarkar'.

Modi has until the Budget of July 10 to prepare himself for a process of change that the Finance Minister's speech must signal. It is possible that the process of change will involve high risks and even some teething troubles. He should live up to his natural temperament and prepare to face these forthrightly.

The country is waiting for his lead. It won't wait indefinitely.

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