This is a point of inflexion for the BJP government. The crisis of 2020-21 calls for PM Modi to ensure a revolution in administrative affairs.
The Russians are an extraordinary people, and the contributions they have made to human history have not been recognized to the extent that is merited. Along with the many scientific and technological discoveries by inventive Russian minds, there are darker areas as well, such as Russian roulette. This is a game of chance in which a revolver has a single chamber loaded with a bullet. The chamber is then twirled, the revolver aimed at the forehead of the player, who then pulls the trigger. Should the ignition lever hit the bullet, there would be instant death. Otherwise, the sound of a click of the gun that indicates that the firing pin has hit an empty chamber. Are those who play such a game courageous or crazy? Sometimes an excess of the first leads to the other. With the snapping into place of WHO-recommended shutdown protocols and attitudes towards SARS CoV-2, the coronavirus first rampant in the vicinity of Wuhan. The virus travelled across the world in the comfort of an airline with the exception of a few countries that dodged the bullet through smart policy. The pandemic has caused a storm that has taken away millions of lives, hundreds of millions of jobs and reduced living standards for billions across the world. India needed to be prepared for the worst instead of behaving as though the best had already arrived. Will there be no accountability for the lack of therapeutics, oxygen and vaccines that is now being endured across the country? India is a country where software engineers go to work in Israel or in other tech superpowers because they cannot find jobs at home that would use their skills. The products they help to make in the countries they go to thereafter get exported to India at prices much higher than would be the case, were local talent to have been given funds and freedom to function. The good news is that the crisis that the country is in has ensured that Prime Minister Narendra Modi went in for reforms that ought to have been carried out in the latter half of 2014 . Reform is like medicine, bitter at first but with that unpleasant taste soon forgotten by the boost in health that will follow. Under the UPA, penalties were multiplied, as were presumed infractions of the law. It became easy for any official to get any individual in criminal trouble under some provision of the law or the other. The dystopian “Jail Bharo” manner of administration has been giving way to a more sensible construct since the pandemic struck, that may in time ensure that the flight of talent and money to distant shores from India that began during the UPA period gets reversed. Given his lack of action during 2004-14 on the lines now being suggested by him, Rahul Gandhi is likely to remain the ideal opponent for PM Modi. The heir to the Congress Party had a chance to actually do something, and allowed that to pass, confining himself to words, words, words. The country is sick of words, besides getting sick in other ways.
Given that more than 90% of unaccounted assets are not in local currency but mostly secreted abroad, demonetisation had a limited impact on the black economy. As for GST, the Police Constable or “PC” methods of the Finance Ministry assisted by the Law Ministry under the UPA were once again on display. Rates were extortionate and incomprehensible. The “Good & Simple Tax” system was the converse of that. All that GST as first introduced did was to make compliance a nightmare, and make it easier for corrupt officials to extort bribes through intimidation. In the case of demonetisation, the Prime Minister finally had to intervene to ensure that the RBI went back to its primary function of providing liquidity for the economy to grow rather than choking it to near death through draining enterprises of money. For GST as well, it took Prime Minister Modi’s intervention to ensure that compliance with GST was made easier, although this remains a work in progress. And then came SARS CoV-2. At first it was migrant labour and slum dwellers, and now it is the middle class that is finding that the chamber loaded with the bullet is becoming commonplace. Jewellery kept aside for the wedding of a daughter has been pawned, loans have been taken from friends, property has been sold. All to try and ensure that some member of a family remains alive once an RT-PCR test turns out to be positive and the virus is of a deadly form rather than (as in the majority of cases) less harmful than even the common cold. Once again, Prime Minister Modi had to step in to ensure that drugs, oxygen and vaccine production get ramped up. Will those who were responsible for the pain and dislocation of DeMo, GST and inattention to the onset of a second SARS CoV-2 wave be identified and held accountable? Unless this gets done, the nation will go on from crisis to crisis. Finally, the reservoir of apparently endless goodwill for the Man of the People and from the People who is Prime Minister of India will run dry.
Only 5% of the officials in India are out to profit at the expense of the people. Most seek to help the people, and yet, all too often the rules, laws and regulations that get passed and implemented reflect the need for additional bribe collection capacity of the 5% rather than the instincts for good of the 95%. This is a point of inflexion for the BJP government. The famine of the 1960s caused the Green Revolution to come about through Lal Bahadur Shastri’s wisdom and the administrative skills of C. Subramanian. The crisis of 2020-21 calls for PM Modi to ensure that there is a Revolution in Administrative Affairs such that the 5% no longer call the shots when aiming their revolvers of authority at the future of the people of India. Smart policy, transparency and accountability are needed. PM Modi has the power to ensure this during the course of the year itself, before the 5% succeed in draining away all the goodwill he has accumulated through decades of public life.