Working To A Plan

by Gautam Mukherjee - Jul 4, 2015 03:14 PM +05:30 IST
Working To A Plan

The Modi Vision is working and it is working to a plan—did you know that this government has created 2.75  lakh new jobs between July and December 2014?

Democratically elected leaders and the governments they form, in Europe, America, Latin America, Australia, Israel, Japan, Turkey, elsewhere, have often been plagued by inadequate elected strength of numbers in one or the other house of parliament.

This can happen at the start of an administration, on an inherited basis, or even because of change of a house’s majority position at any point: due to deaths of members, scheduled by-elections, conclusion of an incumbent’s term in office, and so on.

Sometimes this results in spectacles like the US Government being unable to pay its running bills, because their House of Representatives, gone numerically to the other side, decides to flex its muscles.

It refuses to vote for a higher overdraft limit or ‘debt ceiling’ to accommodate the government’s fiscal obligations. This confrontation neared breaking point famously in 2011, though, prudently, never since.

The Republicans who were in a majority in the House of Representatives drove the Obama government to the wire, demanding extensive expenditure cuts in return for a positive vote.

President Obama, a ‘democrat’, the most powerful man in the world’s richest, most militarily advanced and powerful country, was left standing with his threat to let the government grind to a halt hovering in the air. He waited and watched the fiasco grind on. But finally, the Republicans blinked first.

In other instances, there are coalition pressures, sometimes inclusive of a keenly negotiated rotating prime-ministership between two or more partners in the arrangement, as was the case in Israel.

But in all such difficult situations, thrown up by the dictates of a fragmented electorate, or even by the vagaries of parliamentary rules and procedures, the government is compelled, nonetheless to find its own way to deliver.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a BJP Prime Minister, achieving an outright majority for the BJP for the first time ever, and this after a highly personalised campaign, realises that the decimated Congress wants to destroy his credibility.

Plus there are elements in his own party, spearheaded by LK Advani, the former Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, who clearly wants to see Modi fail. However, too much should not be made of this trend, because it does not have a mass base and is the natural disgruntlement that comes with a generational shift.

The Congress, and most of the disparate Opposition, with the likely exception of the TMC, the AIADMK, the BJD and a few others, are feeling threatened by the BJP gaining ground in their own constituencies and power bases. They will do their best to stay the course.

Part of the strategy is to block Modi’s legislative agenda. Another is to work hard to highlight any contentious issue, however trivial, in its most exaggerated avatar, to keep up a propaganda war.

With the forthcoming Monsoon Session of Parliament threatening to turn into a colossal waste of public money, what are the Government’s options on implementation?

Can it, for example, move ahead for a longer time with land acquisition operating currently under ordinance? Likewise, can it roll out GST by April 2016, without the consent of so many states and the necessary parliamentary nods?

The answer is probably yes, if it proceeds piecemeal with those states which are agreeable and willing, and on terms broadly in harmony with the GST Bill. The same model could be used for other legislation that is stuck, even in future, working on the basis of a state law accepted by the centre via the President of India, rather than the other way around.

Some 370 acres of land has, in fact, been acquired under the ordinance, though most states are waiting to see what form the new Land Bill eventually takes. But it also means that those who want to get on with a blocked project can do so. In any case, the modalities of compensation etc need to be worked out at the state level, for different cities, towns, districts and villages, and throughout its compass.

This relentlessness of spirit to move forward will blunt the opposition’s objective of crippling the government. Theoretically, most of the BJP/NDA ruled states, currently 12 in number plus one union territory, could pull away, and find methods to bypass the motivated, and some might say undemocratic, parliamentary logjam.

It may not show, or be much talked about, but this government did create 2.75 lakh new jobs between July and December 2014, according to a Labour Ministry survey. This is an 118% jump over the corresponding period from a year before.

The ultra-conservative RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan now frequently opines that the economy is reviving, and the pace can be boosted further with more structural reforms. He expects to make further cuts in the interest rate, perhaps in his next review in early August, based on the continued success of the ongoing monsoon.

On a broader canvas, the first year’s hectic engagement with the world is beginning to pay substantial dividend as the pledges start converting into investments; even as further pledges, particularly in defence manufacturing, keep rolling in. This, after all, is not only huge but unprecedented. The government has issued 56 licences to private entities to participate.

There is $650 million coming in from The World Bank by way of a soft loan for the Railway’s dedicated East-West Freight Corridor. This comes on top of $1.1 billion received from the same source last year, and a first tranche of $ 975 million given out in 2011. So, this, at least, is going forward.

Modi’s earlier success with solar power in Gujarat is about to be boosted by $20 billion in investment from Japan’s Softbank to make state-of-the-art solar panels in India in collaboration with Taiwan’s Foxconn. The Modi government has decided to encourage the best foreign technology from anywhere to come make solar products in India. China’s Trina Solar is another contender likely to come in soon. All in all, India’s involvement with this green source of power is going in for a paradigm shift.

Our perennial drought and flood scenario every monsoon is sought to be addressed too. The government has recently approved the spending of $ 7.9 billion over five years to expand areas under irrigation. And the first project to interlink rivers has also been initiated, with the Ken-Betwa link between neighboring states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, involving the building of a dam on the Ken in Bundelkhand, and a 221 km canal to reach the Betwa basin.

Several other river link projects are also in the preparatory stages, and when implemented, will transform this country’s water management, substantially reducing Indian farming’s dependence on rain.

Another clear-cut project in manufacturing that has matured is Canadian firm Bombardier’s project to manufacture rail coaches meant for Australia in India. This is canny, because India will, most likely, put in a bigger order than Australia before long.

The recent thrust on electronics under Digital India underlines the fact that India’s bill for electronics imports is only second to that for petroleum products. And if this were to be met domestically, through manufacture and upgraded services, it would also be most transformative. Not only would we save on imports but the modernization of the Indian system would result in massive efficiencies brought on by the use of superior communications, data-sharing, better equipment, delivering speed, cost-savings and multiple other benefits of technology. A number of key domestic and foreign business houses have shown keen interest and have pledged huge sums of money towards its realisation.

Many long stuck road projects, such as the storied Kundli-Manesar-Palwal highway, now in six lanes, up from the earlier 4, have begun to race towards completion.

Adani, perceived to be close to Modi, is going to radically modernize bought-out ports on the Eastern seaboard.

In diplomatic terms, the new pilgrimage route to Mansarovar, swiftly opened by China, will cut travel time, from at least a week to two days, for most ordinary pilgrims. There are indications that border talks with China, languishing for decades, will also be given a fresh impetus.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia recently alluded to the fact that their own border issues with China, pending for 40 years, now stands settled. In our own case, the Modi government has managed to conclude a long-standing border situation with Bangladesh, earning India considerable goodwill. Myanmar too is cooperating with India in the curbing of cross-border terrorism.

There are many such examples of substantial gain and change that the Modi government has been already able to bring about despite the shrill noise. The GDP rates are up, and 8 to 10 per cent annual rates may not be very far away.

And as these successes mount in number and importance, together they have the potential to dwarf and render ineffective the out-dated negative politics of obstruction and vilification being pursued by a despairing but feisty opposition. 2019 may not be seized on the strength of old slogans by any side. First, any contender will have to be more promising than Modi’s track record by then.

It may be an old-fashioned idea, but it has always served NaMo well.

Note: An earlier version of this copy claimed 2.75 million jobs were created between July – December 2014 instead of 2,75 lakh job. This error has been corrected, and regretted.

Gautam Mukherjee is a political commentator whose columns figure regularly in different right-of-centre media outlets
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