Twenty months into its 5-year term in office, the Narendra Modi ministry cannot any more talk of the problems inherited from the decade in office of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Indeed, the very first Economic Survey of the new government was surprisingly complimentary about the economic management of its predecessor, apparently allowing the mismanagement and policy errors of the past to pass by unremarked. Indeed, that survey, read in its totality, conveyed the impression that the economy was in good shape, thereby whetting expectations for a quick entry into the “Achhe Din” zone. In reality, the economy was a shambles, and it would take two years at a minimum to set things right. Expectations of an earlier breakthrough in results were unrealistic, and this has proved to be the case. Prime Minister Modi has had to quietly and diligently work to clear away the mess and to ensure that procedures and processes improve to a level such that the government would serve as a facilitator to growth rather than the biggest obstacle to economic recovery, which has been the case in India for decades. Now that he is closing in on the midpoint of his term in office, it is vital that PM Modi put in place a team which can deliver results striking enough to ensure double digit growth. For that, he needs to look dispassionately at the performance of each of his ministers, especially those holding economic portfolios, and ensure that poor performance gets met with a transfer to less onerous and consequential duties.
It has long been the practice for Prime Ministers to place considerations of caste, community and region above skill and merit, while making choices. A recent book by a Congress insider spoke about how a Union Minister belonging to a particular community had to be replaced by another belonging to the same community, a situation in which a non-performer apparently got replaced with another. A Central minister is too important in the framing and execution of policy to get chosen on any other than the grounds of proven merit and capacity for the tasks assigned to him or her, and it is expected from a leader of the 21st century such as Narendra Damodardas Modi that he will eschew caste, communal and regional criteria in the selection of ministers and recruit the most outstanding irrespective of their origins. This is a country where nearly 13 million more citizens need a job each year, and unless these be provided, societal tensions on the scale of Egypt are inevitable. By 2019, the economy needs to hum along at a growth rate in its double digits, and for this to happen, it is not only that appropriate policies get formulated but that they be implemented in an effective and time-bound manner. In particular, the taint of corruption ought to be absent, and any individual seen to be deviating from the high standards demanded by the Prime Minister needs to be asked to step down. Corruption was the issue which brought the Congress to its lowest ever tally of Lok Sabha seats, and the successor government needs not only to be 100% clean, but shown to be so. There are whispers of a Cabinet reshuffle in the near future, and this newspaper looks forward to this being a comprehensive exercise that would put in place a team that can deliver, for Prime Minister Modi and for the 1.26 billion other citizens of this emergent global superpower.