NITI Aayog, a think tank of the Centre, sponsored a conclave of “eminent” persons from within the country and abroad on the theme “Transforming India” in Delhi recently. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who inaugurated the meet, later sat with the audience, underlining the importance of free ideation that was required in the deliberations on such a crucial subject. According to media reports, ministers and bureaucrats—past and present—formed the bulk of the gathering. This was a good occasion for NITI Aayog to put the focus on the strategy that the present government under PM Modi had put in place for carrying India forward and have a meaningful discussion on how to get over the obstacles that came in the way.

After his thumping victory in the 2014 general elections, Narendra Modi appropriately began his innings as Prime Minister by setting the direction of his national policy in three clear slogans: “India First”, “sabka sath sabka vikas”, and “minimum government maximum governance”. These covered the domains of defence, development and delivery, respectively, and together could be termed as the Modi doctrine for national advancement.

“India First” provided the base for a policy of making the nation secure and strong in terms of defence against an external aggression and maintenance of internal security. Prime Minister Modi has in the first two years of his rule reached out to the world outside—travelling across the continents—and succeeded in founding all bilateral and multi-lateral relations on the paradigms of national security and economic development. He fully understands how in today’s world “national security is inseparable from economic security”. It is interesting to find that the Donald Trump campaign in the United States has also called for “America First”, raising the thought that in a world of excessive globalisation, sovereign national interests needed to be given close attention. Brexit seemed to affirm the same point. Modi’s call “India First”, certainly showed a good reading of the geo-political scene of our times. He gets the credit for freeing our policy of the Cold War baggage.

The call of “sabka sath sabka vikas” is a credible vehicle for the pursuit of economic development rising above caste, creed and regional identities. In a country where politics of communalism had permeated all facets of governance, this approach to development becomes a true instrument of secularism. Many of our mainstream parties, out of vote bank politics, refuse to delink their community-based approach from the need to condemn even a threat to internal security like terrorism. A challenge for the Modi regime is to ensure that national security was kept above party politics.

It is on the promise of “minimum government maximum governance” that Modi has been able to make a definite impact. In the bureaucracy at the Centre, application to work, accountability for delivery and role of supervision have made a welcome return. Inter-ministerial coordination and time frame for consultations have brought about a visible improvement in decision-making. Tenure-bound bureaucracy is trained to act as a collective of implementers, not “thought leaders”, and that is why a conclave of the type organised by NITI Aayog becomes important for evolving policy options within the macro systems defined by our Constitution.

Coming back to the three-pronged strategy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a major question is whether commitment of the state governments could be obtained for furthering the Centre’s line. Modi has laid the turf for this by giving a call for “cooperative federalism”. However, in the matters of law enforcement that is now an integral component of internal security, taking development closer to the people, and improving delivery for the common man, there is a clear need for getting the state governments to perform better. It is ironic that the Centre’s mission in these three areas of security, development and governance gets a rap for reasons that are not within the control of the Union government. The failures and inadequacies of the states spoil the national image of India outside and yet the Centre can hardly do anything about this. This dilemma should be the subject of deep evaluation by NITI Aayog. A few things suggest themselves. The Centre should examine the feasibility of monitoring the performance of IAS and IPS officers in the districts and their immediate seniors who are responsible for the sovereign function of law enforcement. A glaring failure should invite a reprimand from the Centre, since it is the Centre that recruits and trains these officers and allocates them to the states. 

In the domain of development in rural India, the state government should be in a position to identify, before the harvest, any farmers who were running into a dead end because of crop failure and get them timely financial help just enough to keep them from committing suicide. And finally, why should the idea of “minimum government maximum governance” not be taken to the states by mandating administrative reforms identified for this purpose? 

All these three segments of the Modi Doctrine are apolitical in their content and spirit and deserve to be pushed through with determination.

D.C. Pathak is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau.