India Against Corruption



Modi in 2nd Year

By Prem Chandran Some sixteen months into the Narendra Modi rule, expectations of major changes to governmental functioning, in keeping .....

: Oct 2012
: Adur, Kerala, India
: 66
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Thumbs up Modi in 2nd Year

By Prem Chandran

Some sixteen months into the Narendra Modi rule, expectations of major changes to governmental functioning, in keeping with his high profile as a man of action, have receded. Promised reforms remain stuck as well. Feelings are that Sonia Gandhi is bent on stalling governmental functioning, even as the Congress party is dying a slow death -- exemplified in a just-released US-based Pew Research Centre survey that said 74 per cent of Congressmen it talked to appreciated the way Modi is going about. True, there is cautious optimism that things could change for the better by the time Modi comes up with his report card for the 2019 General Elections.

There are silver linings of a sort; and worries on some other fronts. The government has unraveled plans to “tone up the bureaucratic apparatus and weed out officials of doubtful integrity and efficiency,” and asked various departments to identify such public servants and move proposals for their premature retirement. At a conservative estimate, this would, if strictly followed, “weed out” some fifty per cent of the officialdom. For, the bureaucracy, its morale sunk by the unscrupulous, unprincipled and self-seeking political class, is infested with so much of flab and bad blood. But, curiously, the top babus who were a party to the “weeding out” decision have devised the exercise in such a way that its very purpose could be defeated and the bureaucratic framework remained more or less the same. For, the devil is in its details. The order, at the behest of Prime Minister Modi and cabinet secretarty PK Sinha, goes on to say that “action can be taken only against such officers whose annual increment stood frozen for a few years and who have not got promotion in the preceding five years.”

Now, who are the good officials and bad officials? Good officials are the ones who are in the good books of their superiors or political bosses of the respective area, and bad officials are those who are not. Period. And, how would you get into the good books of the bosses? Those who are committed to work, and to rules of the book, are generally not in anyone’s good books. They are generally also targets of witch hunt.They generally do not take gratifications and hence the question does not arise of them giving away a share of the bad pie to the superior or to the political boss. They also do not lick the boots of the political class, or of their superiors, or do things out of the way. Promotions are denied generally to upright officials on one pretext or the other. They are often charged with indiscipline for the reason they do not act to the tunes of those who want them to bend rules. Smart Alecs among the officialdom get promotions without any hitch. They are servile by nature. Smart Alecs are in the good books of superiors. Their increments are generally not withheld; rather, they might get double increment. There are exceptions, but this is the general, unwritten rule in the corridors of power and down below the ranks. In other words, the Prime Minister has sought to improve the efficiency of the bureaucracy, but has not devised foolproof ways to achieve his goal. Rather, this could, if haphazardly implemented, serve no purpose. Chances are that it would lead to more witch hunt, hurting innocent staff.

Modi has, in another recent instruction, asked state governments to do away with the system of interviews for recruitments to the lower rungs of governmental staff. His reasoning, very rightly, is that interviews are often used to exclude meritorious candidates from being selected even as they performed well in written test. Fact is that a lot of vested interests operate in the systems of recruitments to state and central government establishments. UPSC itself is not all that upright. The Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh, involving the state BJP government, is just about the tip of the ice berg. Candidates from the lower rungs of the society who do not have the right kind of influence with those in positions and power, have a hard time getting jobs even as they struggle hard to pass exams. How things will change with Modi’s instructions is to be watched. Vested interests will find one or other way to perpetuate their interests. Soft-pedaling of issues by the Prime Minisiter might not necessarily have the desired results. Instead, when intentions are good, one must be tough as tough could be; steamroll, if need be. Ends can justify the means.

What is needed is a massive overhaul of the system. One believes Modi has the grit and determination to do it; if not immediately, then in the course of time before he turns up before us for votes for a second term in office. It would be no easy task. The vigilance and anti-corruption bureau, for one, functioning in state after state, is by far the most corrupt entity. And, how do you expect of them to catch the thieves in the administration? And, how would the scenario change as long as the politicians in power, other than an Arvind Kejriwal and his flock, are using these agencies to further their political ends and personal greed? This is not to ignore the fact that Modi has, to an extent, tried to control corruption after he took office in Delhi.

A matter of worry is that, instead of attending to serious issues, the BJP governments are wasting their time and energy to push their fundamentalist and religious agenda --like the ban on meat in a metropolis like Mumbai on the occasion of a Jain festival. Seeking to turn India into a theocratic state is one thing, and concentrating on development is quite another. One stifles people’s life, the other helps them live a better life. This, however, is not to mean the BJP governments should not ruffle feathers, or zealously guard or keep foisting the cultural mileu that was perpetrated on this nation by the successive Congress governments which ruled India for the most part of its Independent existence. The Nehru family’s messiahnic, almost feverish penchant to dynastyise the nation by way of naming anything and everything of significance after Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi had taken its toll on sanity in public life and the democratic credentials of this country. That has ended up with even naming Connaught Place after Rajiv Gandhi, the capital’s new international airport after Indira Gandhi, and much much else. The Modi government has, slowly, started reversing the scenario. Notably, the Communists, who have no political agenda other than working as the B team of the Congress from time immemorial, are the only ones who have found fault with the Modi government for renaming Aurangazeb Road as APJ Abdul Kalam Road. If such protests enthuse minorities and help the party get some votes, why not? For a party that has no agenda, that’s the best way to get some votes in its favour.

Kalam was a rare breed in public life; he was upright to the core, a man of the masses, whom people liked and the youths loved – in the same level as they hated the hand-in-the-honeypot political bandicoots of the day. Well done, BJP. Or, the stamps issue, for that matter. Such are the onslaughts that should go into the unmaking of the cultural mileu of a nation that was being forced for decades to be at the beck and call of a dynasty.

Modi had, at best, a slow but steady start. There is cautious optimism. Not much has changed ever since he took the reins of power. A little more than a year is not a long period either. On the positive side, economy is looking up; rather, it is doing relatively well, with a projected 7.5 growth rate, a scenario that is turned positive due to multiple factors, including the lower price of oil that helped reduce budget deficit, the reining in of retail inflation, and the role of a Reserve Bank governor, Reghuram Rajan, who not only knows his subject but can do his job in better ways. With Arun Jaitley's effective leadership of the FinMin, the nation stood to gain. There has been a boost to investor-confidence, though reforms are not progressing the way it should due mainly to the largely misguided political strategy being adopted by the Congress-led Opposition, stalling reforms through its brute majority in the upper house of Parliament. Sonia Gandhi, who led the Congress up the garden path, is keen on proving a point or two in the twilight of her political leadership, irrespective of whether the country stood to gain or suffer on account of such actions. For her, it's time for a fight to the finish, using the only forum where the Congress party has muscle power, namely the Rajya Sabha. That scenario, much to Modi's discomfiture, would continue for the entire duration of his term in office, unless he changes strategy and tackles the Congress in a different way. Robert Vadra might be the first target in a retaliatory strike, but he will by no means be the only one. Sonia Gandhi might have to pay a bigger price for the way she sought to stall Parliament, and by extension, stall Modi.

It is understandable how Modi is handicapped by the lack of numbers in the upper house, and why key reforms like the land acquisition bill or GST were kept on the back burner or altogether abandoned. But, question is, why has he not evolved strategy to push things forward in the over 16 months of his leadership. True, Modi is not prone to adventurism. His governance of Gujarat showed how he acted like an elephant, taking measured steps, whether it be to neutralize dissent within his BJP party against his leadership, or cutting the Congress Opposition to size, and eventually over a period of time making it irrelevent in state politics. Modi is contemplative by nature, and he would take his time. True, the Delhi assembly elections had his confidence shattered. There, he knew, was still a long way to go, especially as the party itself is a divided house with the likes of Lal Krishna Advani waiting in the wings to upset the Modi applecart. It is to Modi's credit, however, that he has given them no room to flex their muscles. The likes of Advani are virtually in the doghouse, with a relic of a Murli Manohar Joshi humming and hawing only in private, and Advani's own tea-party diplomacy to test the ground failing to draw supporters.

A new India cannot be made overnight. It involves both contemplation and careful planning. It is safe to suspect that Modi did not have the time to plan his agenda as PM beforehand. He got just a few months to rev up the party machinery to back him in his prime ministerial stakes. However, once he jumped into the fray, he pursued his ambition aggressively, jet-set, travelling the length and breadth of a country that hardly knew him or he knew little about. As CM, he had hardly stirred out of his home turf. What he got till then from the media was negative publicity; as the villain of the piece in the Gujarat riots that followed the Godhra train carnage -- the twin mayhems that took the lives of many Hindus and Muslims. Modi's comment after the eruption of the Gujarat riots, that ‘there will be an equal and opposite reaction to every action’, citing Newton's Law, did him in, It had India's secular, self-styled leftist media getting a stick to beat him with, and chasing him like the incarnation of evil. Surprisingly, in the 2014 polls, crowds began swelling his meetings, and the media itself changed its tune. They thought it was time to side with him. Modi, after all, could not be written off. Rather, he survived the media onslaught.

Today, no one wants to see a continuation of the Congress culture or style of governance. People want a different style, a different dictum, a different approach to issues. The BJP or Modi need not feel being on the defensive when it comes to their links with the RSS – another entity that was often taken to cleaners by the generally pro-left media, a vestige of the Nehru era. RSS can hold its head high. In the least they are not part of the loot-brigade led by the political class across the spectrum. It spoke up for the Hindus at a time when the Congress and the Left used secularism as a cover to hoodwink the minorities and win votes. Modi has a mandate to govern; and RSS has the ideology, human resources and a strong network to back him. But, there should be life beyond campaigns like meat ban, or finishing off Pansares or Kalburgis. It has to refashion its agenda to make it more appealing to the aspirational Indian, the youths in particular. Modi is no moron. Far from it. He has a vision for the India of the future. The national agendas of Modi and RSS should synchronise. And, for the immediate future, much depends on the outcome of the Bihar polls, where Modi has stuck his neck out.

Last edited by Premchandran; 09-21-2015 at 06:55 PM
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