Overall, the people of India believe Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi to be honest, which is why they have taken seriously his promise of “Minimum Government and Maximum Governance”. This columnist was among the many thousands who witnessed the swearing in of the Modi Council of Ministers on 26 May, and was a trifle disappointed that the list contained so many who were from the past. While these worthies are all honourable men and women, they have done little of note during the previous two decades, and seem unlikely to offer a very different result this time around. Nothing which has taken place (or more importantly, not taken place) during the four months after the swearing in indicates that this forecast is incorrect. Were key ministries to function with even 50% of the efficiency shown by the Prime Minister’s Office, the country would visibly be getting transformed even during this short period. Unfortunately, at least to those outside the comfortable shades of high office in the Modi dispensation, it would appear that their average level of efficacy is less than 20% of what the Prime Minister is achieving in the fields in which the PMO is directly bestowing attention. India is too big a country to be looked after by a single individual, and unless the ministers working for Prime Minister Modi ensure that they approach his standards of probity, direction and efficiency, the public mood is likely to sour well before the 2019 elections. Indeed, such a reversal of mood appears to have already begun.
The Prime Minister needs to ensure that every official be asked to retire by age 52 if not judged good enough for Additional Secretary grade, and at 55 if not made Secretary by then. Indeed, such necessary suggestions are not new, but have been made by Veerappa Moily in his reports on administrative reform.
Voters expected Narendra Modi to trawl not just within the civil service (an institution that shares a goodly share of the blame for the missed opportunities and the errors in policy that the people of India are suffering from), but within civil society in his selection of key personnel to fill slots important for welfare and for security. This far, appointments made have largely been limited to the same list of retired and serving officials who have been functioning in one capacity or the other in and around the dovecotes of office in Delhi for decades. Narendra Modi has the desire to ensure that India glides into a 21st century quality of governance rather than its present 19th century officialdom. Hopefully, as he finds his feet in the quicksand which is congealed within Raisina Hill, Prime Minister Modi will ensure that his team acquires a zest which matches his own level of excellence, rather than seem like components of a Vajpayee II government or in parts, even that of a Manmohan III. The Prime Minster needs to implement such reforms as merging the IAS and the IPS into a combined service after 20 years of being in office, and mandating that each official should specialise in a particular department (such as counter-terrorism in the case of the police departments) rather than be shifted around in the manner of rolling stones. The IFS and the IRS are already specialised, and hence does not need to get included in such a list. The complexity of the present means that the generalist model of the past is not only not relevant, but is harmful to good administration these days. Modi needs to ensure that every high-level vacancy in the Central government gets advertised on the PMO website and that 25% of such posts be filled from outside the Central services, just as 25% of envoys should be from outside the pool of officials, rather than the 100% favoured by Manmohan Singh, who was never able to make the transition from bureaucrat to politician and showed this bias every day that he held office.
Importantly, the Prime Minister needs to ensure that every official be asked to retire by age 52 if not judged good enough for Additional Secretary grade, and at 55 if not made Secretary by then. Indeed, such necessary suggestions are not new, but have been made by Veerappa Moily in his reports on administrative reform, as others have been made by reports on railway reform by Anil Kakodkar or police reform by the Padmanabhaiah committee. Modi has the capacity to ensure that such reforms get carried out, and hopefully he will.
Voters in India do not as yet see the change that they expected when they cast their ballots in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, but in the next two years, hopefully they will. In the meantime, what is needed is for the Prime Minister to each day take forward his promise of Minimum Government and Maximum Governance. In such a task, his Cabinet colleagues and those others he has chosen for high office need to function in a way which matches not their past record of performance, but Modi’s (and the voters) expectations of excellence.