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250 days of Modi government
It is 250 days since Narendra Modi took charge of the Central government. The adversarial nature of Indian polity did not leave much scope for a honeymoon. The usual bickerings accusations, one-upmanships and other divisive issues like secularism and Hindutva, surfaced in quick time.

The Congress by stalling Parliament provided a tit-for-tat to the BJP. Of course, several bills piloted by the BJP (eg. increase of FDI in insurance) were earlier piloted by the UPA but were thwarted by the BJP! The lack of majority in the Rajya Sabha is forcing the government to take the ordinance route for attempting economic reforms. In a parliamentary democracy this should be the last resort. But in the Indian divisive polity, there seems to be some justification for this.


How has the government performed in the first 250 days?

Full marks should be given in foreign relations. Modi has been focusing on this right from day one.  It was a masterstroke inviting all the heads of governments of SAARC countries for the swearing-in ceremony. His subsequent visits to several countries and the meticulous mobilisation of NRIs made a deep impression not just on the concerned political leaders of the countries but on large sections of Indians as well. There were signs of improved relations with the US, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia and China.  It’s another matter that Sushma Swaraj, the External Affairs Minister, has been rendered invisible.

The Gujarat type administration through the bureaucracy is setting in. Modi, through the PMO, has been reaching out directly to senior bureaucrats, sidelining the ministerial colleagues. One notices the ministers reluctant to articulate on issues concerning their ministries and do not respond to queries raised. This is the type one is familiar in states where chief ministers are all too powerful as in Tamil Nadu.

One should admit that the different voices heard during the tenure of UPA II by senior ministers diminished the stature of Dr Singh.  But that is no reason not to allow Modi’s team - members to speak. This is particularly important for India where there is need to explain the various policies and programme of the federal government to the different regions. UPA failed to do this. NDA should learn the lessons. Even while the civil servants can be left to administer policies and laws, political leadership should be on its feet all the time to explain policies to the people. This would be one of the basic tenets of good governance.

 

Winds blow east

While the Modi government has inherited a weak economy, one expects quick actions to pull it out of the morass.  Look at the phenomenal luck of the government in terms of a steep fall in the price of crude oil by over 60 per cent. This single development has brought about a dramatic change in the economy.  The government is also fortunate in having a reasonably good monsoon with prospects of another good harvest. Despite these favourable factors much of the efforts of the government seem to be spent on non-development issues. A number of lose canons of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar seem to divert attention from development focus.

Has the new government made a dent on black money and corruption? Sadly, there are no visible results. I cite one instance: the Central government offers subsidy up to Rs 50 lakh for units setting up a food processing industry. Initially the clearances were centralised at Delhi. Last year the clearances were shifted to the states. A consultant, familiar with these, points to well set practices to perpetuate corruption: he mentioned that earlier the department officials in Delhi were the principal beneficiaries. Today it has spread to the state capitals!

 

Signs of action, but need for more

While the policy of liberating FDI in the Defense sector and Railways show promise they will take time. One may expect the railway and the central budgets to come out with a few big projects like high speed train corridors with liberal funding to stimulate economic activity.

One expects the government to build on the favourable factors before the chalta hai business attitude sets in. The first 250 days have not inspired much confidence on speedy action. Hopefully the budget would set the trend. 

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