The response of American industry heads to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to invest in India is predictable as well as right. Businessmen are not known for acerbic anti-government comments unless the market of the country it governs turns extremely difficult for them to operate in. Along those lines, US Inc has lauded the efforts of the current dispensation of India to reform key sectors of the economy. They have but added in the same breath that the transformation is too slow. Indeed, the same has been the complaint of free market advocacy groups in this country, which had played a role in mobilising urban middle class support for the BJP for the Lok Sabha elections, since May 2014 when Modi and his team assumed office. The fact that ease of doing business is increasing in India coupled with the truism that the pace is disappointing would make a scenario emerge in 2019 that could unnerve the ruling party and leave it frustrated; it would feel that it did everything that its electorate demanded and yet they were not satisfied with its performance. If it so happens, it would be like an issuer of loan getting repayments in so many small, uneven and erratic instalments that eventually when he recovers the principal, even with interest, he wouldn’t feel that the indebted had paid him up. Here, the voters have issued the loan, and Modi government may pay them back in 5 years alright, but in such fits and starts that the people wouldn’t find the change palpable.
Of course, in today’s federalised structure, the onus lies on State governments, rural, urban and other local bodies of governance to fix the nuts and bolts. However, the BJP has won so many State Assembly elections over the past few years that non-cooperation by States wouldn’t wash as an excuse during the next general elections. The ‘Gujarat model’ of making the available human resource in bureaucracy work to its potential won’t click at the Centre — it’s time Modi realised that. The problem is essentially with the long hierarchy of command and a colonial mindset of clerks who continue to believe they are meant to serve the ruler and not the ruled. These babus are not only acting at cross purposes with their political heads but also embarrassing the government time and again with their peculiar circulars, notices, correspondence — as also affidavits submitted in courts — besides creating hassles for the ordinary citizen at every opportunity available. Enough! Carry out administrative reforms now, without which no economic reform will work.
But then, Modi’s more than a decade long innings in Gujarat suggests he has perfected the art of winning elections. Despite this air of disappointment among the middle class — that is too small as compared to the size of the electorate that is poor, but is strong enough to influence the overall mood of an election — other sections of society can see him through. For one, the poor are getting empowered no doubt, as subsidies are reaching them via banking instruments. While banking on them, Modi can also impress a big section of the talking heads of society by replacing a hell lot of incumbents during ‘ticket’ distribution, thus creating an impression that he had the right intentions but because of these laggard MPs, he couldn’t meet the people’s expectations! In 2007 and 2012, almost half of Gujarat’s sitting BJP MLAs were denied nominations — in defiance of the will of the party’s parliamentary board in Delhi — and the move did pay the desired dividend.
The bigger issue, therefore, is not how long Modi will rule. It is how long he will take to realise that the existing system of governance is ineffective. The political alternatives of Modi are worse — dyed-in-the-wool socialists who bankrupt the economy systemically with leakage-ridden ‘welfare’ measures and then open the markets in desperation when the empty coffers leave them with no other option.