Ideas

From Politics To Policy: PM Modi Gets A Third Shot At Propelling India Towards Amrit Kaal, Here's How He Can Go About It

Venu Gopal Narayanan

Jul 07, 2024, 11:14 AM | Updated 11:13 AM IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
  • This is how the Modi government can build a comprehensive groundwork for Amrit Kaal through effective policy-making.
  • Normal service has resumed in Parliament. Disruptions, sloganeering and barbs are back again. This is a cue for voters to stop looking back at the general election results, and, instead, to start looking forward at the decade ahead.

    This is because, it is now clear that mindless obstructionism by the opposition benches will remain the order of the day, with exasperating vituperation and shrillness, both within Parliament, and without.

    It is equally clear that this would have been the tactic of choice whether the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had won 240, 340, or 440 seats in the Lok Sabha.

    Consequently, if this is the new normal in politics, then it is the various policies which are implemented over the next five years, rather than the quality of debate in Parliament, or the ferocity of protests outside it, which will determine whether India’s progress as an economic and military superpower stays on track, or gets stunted.

    For the BJP, this is a third opportunity to lay more foundations for ‘Amrit Kaal’. In policy terms, it essentially means making India drought proof, flood proof, sanctions proof, and bullet proof over the next quarter century.

    Droughts

    Although India has done much in the past century by way of dams and irrigation canals to propagate the green revolution, and mitigate water scarcity to a good extent, a lot more remains to be done if the subcontinent is to become substantially freer from vagaries of the weather.

    It is a complex problem demanding a generational solution.

    One avenue under consideration is a linking of major rivers. Yes, it can work, but it will be insufficient because the proposals focus on the midstream sectors of the riparian drainage basins. And it still wouldn’t solve the Cauvery problem, for example.

    A more effective approach would be to add value to this plan, by additionally charging certain major rivers further upstream, closer to their catchment areas. That would mean constructing a network of canals from north to south, across the Deccan and Malwa plateaus, along the eastern, rain shadow zone of the Western Ghats and the Aravalli Range.

    It would also mean tapping the prolific volumes of the Narmada and the Tapti through a monumental feat of civil engineering.

    But there are significant constraints. Most of the major hydel projects of the past were devised with four objectives: water storage, irrigation, electricity generation, and flood control. The balance is delicate, and any disruption would have a catastrophic impact on millions of lives.

    As a result, any such plan would necessarily have to be preceded by the construction of adequate nuclear power plants so that the transition from hydel to nuclear is carried out in a gradual, phased manner.

    Only then would requisite volumes of water be freed up to recharge water tables, allow more regular water supply, and create a larger water bank for the drought years.

    Floods

    Simply too much time, resources, investments, and money are lost every monsoon, in one state or the other, because of floods. For rich industrialised states, it is a treasury subvention of such proportions that growth is set back by a year.

    For poor states, it is yet another body blow to whatever meagre investments and development planning were in play, and one more delay in their hopes of joining the Indian growth story.

    The problem is regional and local. It is political and administrative. It is also both urban and rural. Unplanned, haphazard, unauthorised constructions dot every corner of this land, and remain the bane of our monsoon woes.

    They either fail to protect citizens from flood fury, or amplify its misery by preventing swift drainage through traditional channels, or lead to fatal landslips. Sadly, in the process, it is the relief crews which are affected the most since their access is often impeded.

    At some point of time, this business of entire cities being brought to a standstill by a brief cloudburst, or whole districts getting marooned because a bund or a river bank burst when it rained slightly more than normal, has to cease. Geography cannot be an excuse, and land cannot spell corruption.

    ‘Amrit Kaal’, therefore, means standardieing urban planning pan-nationally through requisite legislation by the Union, transparent, real-time monitoring of constructions, punitive levies for deviations, and monetary assistance to individual households for raising the plinth of their homes.

    In effect, it would require an administrative reforms commission to devise and manage such a centennial transformation, since the existing bureaucratic structure is too moribund to undertake this task.

    Sanctions

    The lesson of the century is the way in which Western nations first egged Russia into invading Ukraine, and then sought to isolate it through a slew of sanctions. How much has India learnt?

    The question is asked because of the path of growth our subcontinent is set on: if it was Iran’s turn previously, Russia’s turn today, and potentially China’s, tomorrow, then it is only a matter of time before the lens shifts focus to India.

    At the international level, ‘Amrit Kaal’ means India coming into its own on the global stage. It is an unavoidable rite of passage fraught with risk, because, if Indian politics is dirty, geopolitics is dirtier, and India will be forced to bear the brunt of an inevitable blowback with increasing force, as its economic and military might rises.

    Today’s screeches from the opposition benches will sound like elevator music when compared to the deafening foreign narratives which will undoubtedly be orchestrated, by those nations and business sectors whose revenues slumped because of our ascendancy and indigenisation. And that list will include today’s ‘friends’.

    Therefore, it will be a real ‘Amrit Kaal’ only when an Indian built jetliner, powered by Indian jet engines, ferries people and products from one continent to another; or, when an Indian-owned-Indian-built LNG tanker vessel, powered by Indian designed turbines, hauls gas from an Indian co-owned natural gas project in Mozambique or Tanzania to an LNG terminal in India. And the time for a concerted push in that direction is these coming five years.

    Security

    Making India bullet-proof means a sizeable, robust military force, equipped with desi gear, prepared to both deter sanctions or break them, and to enforce peace on our terms in our region.

    Strategic thinkers and intellectuals may speak or write what they want, about what sort of alliances and threat perceptions India ought to have, but the ground reality is that in the coming two decades, it is India which will be the principal underwriter of safe inter-regional trade across the Indian Ocean — the most important commercial passage in the world. And this eventuality will come to pass irrespective of whether China, or any other assemblage of extra-regional nations for that matter, concurs or not.

    In practical terms, that means a lot more indigenisation, more acquisitions from more assembly lines, in a rational manner. Defence spending will have to go up in the next five years. As Foreign Minister Dr S Jaishankar remarked recently, it is a messy world set to get messier, and we have to be prepared.

    After all, lest we forget, the completion of delivery of the Tejas Mk1A fighter jet orders already placed, and first delivery of the Tejas Mk2, are both scheduled for 2028-29 — within the term of this eighteenthLok Sabha. So too, the first cutting of steel for the Indian Navy’s next generation surface combatants, and the unveiling of a prototype of our fifth generation fighter jet.

    That’s a lot of work (and we haven’t even discussed the Indian Army’s glaring lack of howitzers and tanks, still lost in the twilight zone of trials, or missiles and drones). It will require unwavering political focus, dedicated monitoring, and long-term financial planning.

    It will also need continuous institutional support for research, development, and design. Consequently, the government would need to ensure that its proposed reforms of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) do not end up with counterproductive results, and reassure the public of the same.

    It will be a difficult task: not breaking the bank while building the weapons we need, and not fixing something like DRDO which ain’t broke. But it can be done. The Prime Minister hinted at continuity in this direction when he spoke recently in parliament, of how India would emerge as a global powerhouse for computer chips in the next five years.

    To sum up, and perhaps most pertinently, all of the above, from making India flood- and drought-proof, to ensuring our trade and security, means jobs — good jobs, for decades.

    Of course, the government will face political hindrances at every step, with the opposition on the streets, and their ideologies on skid row, but as long as the BJP can keep its coalition intact, and manage the narrative, the white noise of dissent will remain just that, allowing the nation’s journey to proceed.

    In essence, it will be ‘Amrit Kaal’ when ‘Atmanirbharta’ loses its aspirational value and becomes a cliche instead, and the strongest steps towards that will have to be laid in the next five years.

    Venu Gopal Narayanan is an independent upstream petroleum consultant who focuses on energy, geopolitics, current affairs and electoral arithmetic. He tweets at @ideorogue.


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