Prime Minister Narendra Modi suffers a burden that hardly any other Indian politician does: of extraordinary expectations. His first Independence Day speech as Prime Minister was substantive in announcements – Clean India, Make in India, abolition of the Planning Commission. His second speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort could never have competed, nor indeed should it have. There is no need for any more big announcements or giant new schemes. It’s time to execute to perfection the plans he has laid out.
That said, a speech is not a forum for execution. It’s a platform for messaging. Fortunately then, Modi seems to still have the right message to send out, even if the execution of his plans by the Government in the last 15 months has been patchy. Wisely, Modi chose to present a report card of at least some his flagship schemes including the Jan Dhan Yojana and the Clean India campaign. Obviously, he picked the programmes where substantive progress has been achieved but he managed to convey that he is following up grand announcements with a tracking of delivery. Presumably, the follow up also applies to where outcomes have been less successful, like Make in India.
Modi did not mention his erstwhile favourite “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance” slogan but in spirit he remains committed to a bigger role for the private sector while streamlining the manner in which government functions. His exhortation of entrepreneurship and “start-up” India shows that he realises that jobs can only be generated in the private sector, but not necessarily in large enterprises alone. His suggestion of fiscal incentives for (private) sectors which generate jobs (and directed credit) may be an anathema for free market economists but Modi was never going to be a puritan ideologue like Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan.
His commitment to reform the apparatus of a dysfunctional and corrupt state has, in general, been less forthcoming in details. In the context, his decision to do away with interviews for lower level government jobs is interesting. The fact is that interviews are an excuse for discretion and therefore rent-seeking and corruption in the government. They also serve no purpose for certain jobs. Moving to a transparent and online system makes eminent sense.
Naturally, critics will point out a long list of things that were left unsaid in his speech. He didn’t address the Parliamentary logjam. He didn’t make a case for an amended land bill. But he has addressed those issues in other forums. For this columnist, the fact that he did not announce any populist schemes (like a UPA Prime Minister would have) despite being apparently under siege by the Opposition is much worthier of note among the things he did not address. At the same time he remains committed to the development of infrastructure – electrifying all villages in 1000 days is a worthy aim.
The beast of Government may have taken away some of the sheen from Prime Minister Modi. It would do that to the best of politicians. Fortunately though, the Prime Minister doesn’t seem to have strayed away from his vision of 2014. Away from the microphone, he needs to put more pressure on his ministers and bureaucrats to execute that vision rapidly.