First came the inclusion of a substantial contingent from Bihar in the Union Council of Ministers sworn in on 26 May 2014, almost all of whom have been less than stellar in their performance. A similar jumbo group of MPs was inducted from Uttar Pradesh, the neighbouring state, leaving relatively scant representation to the east and south of the country. Next, Home Minister Rajnath Singh (together with several other worthies in his party) led the charge towards fulfilling Ram Manohar Lohia and Karpoori Thakur’s dream of doing away with English in administration, replacing the international link language with Hindi. Hence, measures such as downgrading the weightage given to proficiency in English amongst those seeking to join the Central administrative services. This demand was raised by those who lacked the resources in their youth to study in schools where that language was used in a manner designed to ensure fluency. But instead of seeking to quench the hunger within the Hindi-speaking states for the teaching of English, that language is under attack in a manner reminiscent of the policies pursued in Sri Lanka in the 1950s by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, who through his linguistic and educational policies ensured that the divisions within Lankan society crossed safe limits. Next, just before the Bihar Assembly elections got declared, came the announcement of a huge package for the state, together with promises of more, if only Patna was politically in sync with Lutyens’ Delhi. The non-Lutyens segment had of course gone over to the Aam Aadmi Party. The Bihar verdict has shown that voters are indifferent to such efforts at getting their votes.
That the raising of FDI caps in 15 sectors followed rather than preceded the Bihar results gave credibility — perhaps unfairly — to those who claimed that every move of the new government was motivated by political interests. Whatever, the fact is that in 2014, voters backed not the BJP but Narendra Modi, and they supported not Modi the politician, but Modi the administrator. The Vajpayee-ish (and even, in parts, Manmohan-ish) tint of the team sworn in on 26 May last year surprised those who expected a more Modi-ish ministry. It may be that those who say that there has been substantial change since that date may be right, but that change is invisible to most citizens, who still pay high taxes, still face problems finding work, confront rising prices in a situation of depressed wages, and deal with a bureaucracy as venal and unresponsive to public interest as was the case in the past. Unfortunately, Modi’s exhortation to ensure transparency and efficiency has been ignored by several of those given high positions, with the result that thus far, whether it be the RTI (which remains dominated by the very babudom it was supposed to counteract) or the promotion of free speech and democratic rights, thus far there does not appear to be much difference between the UPA era and the present. Once back from the UK and Turkey, it is vital that Prime Minister Modi ensure that the liberalism, which is a feature of modern life in the Gujarati community, be made the motif of his government.
Certainly there are weighty arguments on the issue of dress, lifestyle or diet, but these should be decided by free will, as in other democracies, and not through law or administrative fiat. We have become a nation of scofflaws, whose people have less than wholesome respect for the law, precisely because there are far too many of them, and most are colonial in nature and therefore restrictive of rights to a degree permissible only in wartime.
Because of decades of indoctrination in Nehruvian thinking, the higher reaches of the bureaucracy have become expert in half and in quarter measures that dilute the power of policy initiatives to a degree that renders them valueless. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a 21st century politician, but it is clear that the PMO has yet to prevail over the long-held traits of the bureaucracy. After all, stifling power over decisions and the unreasonable broadening of discretion feed into the psychological underlay of the bureaucracy in India, which continues to see itself as the successor to the British colonial masters. Both bureaucrats as well as their political overseers have retained the British-era system, in which they function in a manner which keeps them separate from the rest of society. They are given privileges which publicly indicate their “Herrenmensch” status on roads, airports and mostly everywhere else in India. Of course, the more the powers and the intrusive nature of rules, the greater the opportunity to collect bribes. Even in the matter of FDI, the just-announced changes are only half-measures, sanctioning a limit of 49% rather than 100% (with a single “Gold Share” in each held by the state in case of selected contingencies). The 49% limit is so that business houses who are patrons of many bureaucrats get approached by foreign companies intending to operate in India. Such genuflection to a few vested interests rather than public interest is at the root of the half and quarter measures getting rolled out. The PMO needs to enforce the will of the PM rather than allow it to get diluted in implementation. The PMO needs to ensure that “half” and “quarter” reforms get replaced by full measures, and that transparency and accountability get enforced across the administrative system. Along with the politicians, it is the failure of officials to finally deliver fullscope change during these 18 months, which is at the root of the BJP’s reverses in Bihar.