The grand media dissection of Narendra Modi’s first 100 days in office reached a crescendo with his Teacher’s Day address to students and teachers across India last Friday. Media and intellectual commentary followed predictable patterns – glancing mentions of positives like a promising yet pragmatic budget, the Jan Dhan Yojana and the PM’s Japan visit followed by full blown discussions on Yogi Adityanath and how the Prime Minister should address the nation on the alleged contents of a video that was recorded over 7 years ago.
Almost none of the discussions even tried to address the fundamental observation about the Modi premiership that should be clear to all – that Modi as PM will not stick to preset patterns that the outside world has set for him and will very much do things his own way, at his own pace.
Powered by the decisive mandate that he has received, his vast experience at the Chief Minister of Gujarat and his lack of dependence on the media, Modi as PM is very much his own man – unshackled by tiresome allies and the undisputed leader of his party.
For a politician keen to build a long lasting legacy and effect a transformative change for India, this is an immensely potent weapon. And in his first 100 days, Modi has shown that his intent is to put it to full use.
Despite what Congress spokespersons shamelessly repeat in channel after channel, Modi’s government has been, by no means, an extension of the shambolic UPA legacy. In fact, in his first 100 days in office, Modi has clearly given the country a hint of things to come. The starkest examples of the fact that Modi Sarkaar will be very different from what the country has seen can be understood from 3 major decisions that the Modi government and the BJP under the leadership of his protégé Amit Shah, have already taken.
The first is the most marked foreign policy departure the country has seen in over a decade viz-a-viz Pakistan. Modi’s tough stand demonstrated to the nation and Pakistan that he is not one to be shackled by the legacy of even Atal Behari Vajpayee. And unlike what his detractors say, Modi has not painted himself into a corner. By drawing a new red line and refusing to engage in a charade of talks with Pakistan, Modi has put the ball squarely in Nawaz Sharif’s court. In doing so, he has sent a message that he is not too desperate to engage in a duplicitous relationship and that Pakistan’s spoilt child syndrome has lost all its endearment this side of the LOC. While the Lahore Admiration Societies in New Delhi have been unanimous in their collective grief, public sentiment has been overwhelmingly with the Prime Minister.
The second has been the government’s decision to dismantle the Planning Commission. While the contours of the agency which will replace the Soviet-era relic has not been defined yet, the very fact that the Prime Minister has recognized the need for a rejuvenation in the way strategic policy is framed in India is indeed heartening. In his earlier avatar as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi had been a vocal critic of the Planning Commission and the unaccountable authority it had over the fiscal policies of elected state governments. In fact, the grapevine has it that he had shocked the Commission when he visited them as Gujarat CM by carrying with him a CD filled criticism of the Commission and its one-size-fits-all policies.
However, most of the establishment had expected Modi to strike a conciliatory tone as PM and effect minimal changes which would be cosmetic at best. But by biting the bullet and dismantling the Commission within his first 2 months – and by not postponing the decision by announcing yet another sarkari commission to come out with an inconsequential report – Modi showed that his campaign promise of giving states more fiscal autonomy was not just hot air. He also sent the message that he sees India’s future as one in which State governments – where governance usually resides – will have much more control over their fiscal policies.
And finally, Modi has demonstrated that he has identified and learnt from the biggest negative that the Vajpayee led NDA government suffered from – disconnect from the larger party and its core constituents. In ensuring that his close confidant and the supremely efficient, Amit Shah became Party President and by insisting that government Ministers will still need to carry party responsibilities, he has set the stage for greater synergy of the Government with the party apparatus and by extension, the electorate. While this might seem to be a move with more political implications at first glance, in actuality it is much more.
Parties and leaders in power tend to – over a period of time – get sucked into a bubble from where they end up disconnected from the people and their concerns. In such situations, governance priorities sometimes tend to move away from what the country really wants into areas which the government perceives the people want. For a cadre based party like the BJP, the party apparatus is one of the most efficient ways to tap into ground realities and keep the government grounded.
All of the decisions listed above demonstrate that Modi as PM still possesses the daring and combativeness that he demonstrated as Gujarat CM and during the election campaign. None of these decisions would have been easy for the PM to take as they go against the grain of the established nature of governance and politics in the country thus far. After riding to success on a massive wave of popularity with his political opponents decimated across the electoral map, Modi would have had ample allurement to effect less risky, superficial changes and retain the status quo. No doubt that he would have received abundant advice from both the bureaucracy and the political establishment to this effect. Yet, the Prime Minister has walked the talk, not bothering about the optics and stayed true to his campaign promise of effecting a transformational change in the way India is governed.
In his first 100 days as Prime Minister, Modi has given India a glimpse of things to come. And from these glimpses, it seems very evident that in searing summer of 2014, India made the right choice.
Praful Shankar is a political enthusiast and tweets at @shankarpraful.
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