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A wish list for Narendra Modi

May 26, 2014 09:16 IST

A wish list for Narendra Modi

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Sunil Sethi

Now that the tears of triumph have been wiped away, and all the top leaders of the neighbourhood invited for the prime minister's inaugural on Monday, everyone has a wish list for what Narendra Modi should do.

Modi wants 10 years to transform the face of India, but there are things he can accomplish in 10 months or even 10 weeks. Here are some he could do straightaway.

Trim the flab: Scale down the size of the Union ministry. The United Progressive Alliance government had 71 members (28 cabinet rank ministers and 43 ministers of state) partly to accommodate coalition partners and partly due to its jobs-for-the-boys philosophy. Many of them ate into government resources with few results.

Conflating many entities into singular ministries -- a ministry of energy, a ministry of transport - is an excellent idea. It will strengthen control, accountability and delivery. Outgoing Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari said the ministry belonged to "another time and era", and departments like the press information bureau, the directorate of advertising and visual publicity, the publications division et al were "inherently redundant". They should soon be made so.

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Image: PM elect Narendra Modi wears a garland presented to him by his supporters at a public meeting in Ahmedabad
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters

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Ring out the old, bring in the young: Considering one-fifth of the electorate that brought Modi resoundingly to power is young, should the Bharatiya Janata Party's elders have lead roles in government? Both L K Advani, 87, and Murli Manohar Joshi, 80, are past their sell-by dates. Heaven forbid if Joshi becomes human resource development minister, a job he has held in the past. Both should be given decorative positions, if necessary.

Who will be governor? The UPA showed governors appointed by the National Democratic Alliance the door in 2004. Ideally, the Congress party-appointed ex-bureaucrats and politicians, such as M K Narayanan, B V Wanchoo, Shivraj Patil and Sheila Dikshit, should offer to resign.

The BJP was furious when Dikshit was appointed governor in Kerala hours before the announcement of the election schedule; it has every right to recall her. As an economist of international repute, the case of Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan is different. He was appointed on merit and pro-Narendra Modi economists like Jagdish Bhagwati strongly favour him. Rajan himself has no qualms about being "fired", as he puts it.

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Image: BJP chief Rajnath Singh, veteran leaders M M Joshi and L K Advani with Modi


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Handling the Gandhis: Whether or not Sonia Gandhi becomes leader of the Opposition, how will the Gandhi family's perks be handled, in particular the dodgy real estate acquisitions of Robert Vadra? Without being vindictive, as Modi promised in his campaign, the rules bent and broken for Mr Vadra to amass his real estate fortune in Haryana and Rajasthan will have to be legally pursued. Sections of the party will also question how Priyanka Gandhi continues to occupy a grace-and-favour bungalow in New Delhi.

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Image: Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi with mother and party chief Sonia


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Handling the loony fringe: Modi has no love lost for the likes of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's troublemakers like Pravin Togadia or Ashok Singhal; he evicted Togadia from Gujarat when he fuelled anti-Muslim sentiment. He will have to take a tougher line against the Hindutva brigade's hate mongering. Subtler pressures by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh will have to be resisted subtly to sustain the support of the intellectual elite and his image abroad.

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Image: Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Pravin Togadia


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Shoring up minority support: Although Muslim vote share for the BJP went up by seven per cent in this election, the stark fact remains that there is not a single Muslim in the party's 282 elected members of Parliament. One way of plugging this glaring deficiency will be to appoint Muslims in government positions - not by way of undue appeasement but on merit. Mr Modi will have to stick to his exhortation of "Hindu and Muslims should fight poverty, not each other".

Cut back the dole: Many of the UPA's rights-based welfare schemes were not bad ideas to begin with, but proved worthless vote catchers because of mismanagement and infighting. Thousands of crores doled out in employment or food guarantee schemes never reached the poor; others like Aadhaar petered out in controversy and were a colossal waste. "Teachers may be strict but that is only for the good of the student," said Modi while anointing Anandiben Patel, an educationist, as chief minister of Gujarat. By that token, he should know that missing teachers are the bane of government schools. Students learn virtually nothing. Their aspirations for skills, jobs and opportunities are demolished at the outset. Subsidies only work if there is accountability, transparency and performance.

"Maximum governance, minimum government" is one of Modi's favourite axioms. With his spectacular ascent to power, he has to prove it to an electorate that is young, impatient and demanding. It's also unlikely to wait 10 years for results.


Image: BJP supporters at Modi's road show in New Delhi
Photographs: Vaihayasi Pande Daniel/Rediff.com

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