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What NaMo will do in 2015

By Sheela Bhatt/Rediff.com
Last updated on: January 02, 2015 19:24 IST
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Sunil Gavaskar, Australian Prime  Minister Tony Abbott and Kapil Dev at the Melbourne Cricket ground. Photograph: PTI photo

'Those who have seen the Modi government in Gujarat know that the issues related to Hindutva and issues of economy and growth function simultaneously.'

'Modi's politics are based on the understanding of the middle-class consumer society which is in pursuit of material aspirations.'

Sheela Bhatt/Rediff.com reveals the Modi government's economic and political plans for the year ahead.

The biggest surprise of the first seven months of the Narendra Modi sarkar has been that the man who came to power against all odds wearing the tag of outsider in New Delhi is treading cautiously and slowly like a typical insider of Delhi's power elite.

As most reviews of 2014 observed, the year belonged to Modi who has so far retained the edge amongst all his contemporary leaders and competitors in spite of a not as spectacular performance as prime minister as his spectacular and historical win in the Lok Sabha election.

To the surprise of his young voters, Modi has adopted a tad slow approach to changing the culture of governance in Delhi. Whether it is the handling of the Central Bureau of Investigation (which is hyperactive in trying to nail West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee) or the government's approach to the Supreme Court (a review petition filed in the black money case has raised doubts about its intentions) or the attitude inside Parliament (not-so-humble handling of the conversion row) there is no sighting of a new dawn, a new era, yet.

The way the ordinance route has been adopted for so many important issues touching people's lives signals that Modi does not have any new ideas or aim to energise and strengthen Indian democracy. The hurry shown in promulgating an ordinance on the Land related Act which is a most sensitive issue in India has been even questioned by President Pranab Mukherjee.

Still, 2014 will be remembered for three things:

  1. Modi's awesome success against huge odds.
  2. The disgraceful fall of the Congress party.
  3. The enormous national aspirations that have arisen in India.

Modi's importance is due to rising young India. Their hopes are so colossal that it has touched mystical levels when one speaks to the rural and urban, poor and middle-class youth. One is sure wise people in government fear that.

The past year will be remembered for the Indian voters' unique thought process to back Modi to develop India. Modi's presence at 7, Racecourse Road, the prime minister's home, is a direct manifestation of the Congress's failures to address the youth of India.

Just in case Modi fails to service these hopes, what will happen to India? The year will be remembered for the Indian voters' unique thought process to back Modi to develop India.

Modi is in power because Indians have become impatient now for sadak, pani, bijli, health, education and naukri. Modi is in the prime minister's office only because a majority of the Indian voters looked at him positively disregarding all kinds of discourses, including the debate on secularism.

After coming to power, Modi seems in no hurry to inject much-awaited ideas in running his ministries. One thought his arrival would see sweeping and swift changes in the administration, systems and beliefs prevalent in running the government.

Instead of making sweeping and swift changes in the administration, systems and beliefs, he is moving slowly in changing what is called the way of governance, established and nurtured by the Congress-ruled governments in New Delhi.

Yes, he has dismantled the Planning Commission which is a historic step, but only time will tell if the National Institution for Transforming India in place of the Planning Commission is a giant idea or not.

He has taken a U-turn, as the Congress rightly alleges, by adopting the Aadhaar system which is his predecessor's baby. By tweaking the system, Modi is going to ensure more clearly that Aadhaar will not automatically bestow Indian citizenship in its owner.

He has energised the United Progressive Alliance's idea of expanding the banking network in rural India by packaging it as the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna. He has largely retained bureaucrats, with some exceptions like Arvind Mayaram, who were in and around South Block and North Block in the UPA era.

He has not injected private brains or non-governmental entities or ideas to his office and in the government with the rare exception of economist Arvind Subramanian.

"Modi is of the opinion," says a senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader, "that the new government should not reshuffle the administration on a massive scale. It is better to establish your authority among the older bureaucrats."

His PMO is behind purdah. Modi has a habit of doing things away from the media's glare since 2001 when he was Gujarat chief minister, so very few things are known before hand. If we rewind Modi's speeches of the last six months, it is clear how he misses Gujarat and how often he returns to his tenure as chief minister to prove a point.

The news that has hit the headlines as much as Modi in the last seven months is about the rising talk of the idea of a Hindu rashtra. Indian urban public discourse has begun to be filled up with undesirable sermons as soon as Modi occupied the PMO. The most heard noises have been from deep-saffron activists who have found a new lease of life under the new government.

These days, to the dismay of Modi's non-Hindtuva but development craving supporters, the only voices one hears in the public space are of abusive junior ministers, aggressive saffron ideas of re-conversion, PK bashers and the rediscovery of Mahatma Gandhi's murderer. However, Modi's critics are likely to be proved wrong if they think the debate on Hindutva will derail the development march.

But it will be wrong to brand Modi's slow start in New Delhi on economic reforms or for not doing any dramatic and visible thinking to change governance as a setback to him or his government. The Modi sarkar is on the path that it has chosen to travel and which it thinks is good for India.

As one senior BJP leader asks, "Do you expect us to run the country as the Congress wants? We are doing what we promised before the election."

In between, Modi's cautious approach in governance and rising Hindtuva quotient lie lots of action, the BJP leader claims.

On the political turf, the biggest thing in his favour is that Modi's core constituency, even after seven months, speaks sympathetically about him and his government.

'The Congress has left behind ruins. Give him to time to repair it.'

'Give Modi some time, you gave the Congress 50 years.'

These are oft heard defences of the Modi government.

So far, so good for Modi.

But what lies in store for Modi sympathisers and critics in 2015?

Rediff.com has collected a few insights of what is in the pipeline in 2015. This is just one side of the coin. But it is interesting to see how ambitious this government could be.

The world is watching carefully Modi's play in New Delhi. What is on top of Modi's agenda in foreign policy?

Modi has done "brilliant lobbying of the world's most powerful leaders, something that builds up an image of India as an emerging power and plays very well at home," says a Washington-based scholar of the India-US relationship.

"One of America's leading television news programmes named Modi the person who made the major impact on world politics," he added.

Modi's choreography on the world stage in the last seven months is to establish India's importance on the strength of its undeniable market of 1.2 billion plus consumers. While speaking to world leaders, Modi has exhibited confidence in himself and in India's future to take nothing less than a seat at the United Nations Security Council as a permanent member.

Sources in the government told Rediff.com that Modi's brief to Indian diplomats is clear. He wants foreign policy to help achieve India's economic goals. On the strength of stronger economic growth, Modi wants to push for UN reforms and eventually for India's "well-deserved place" under the UN sun.

Modi will take India's relations with SAARC countries, except Pakistan, to a new level. Particularly, Bhutan and Nepal will see golden opportunities under Modi's rule. Like it happened during UPA rule, relations with China and Pakistan will remain challenging. The posturing will be of a "firm India."

In the last seven months, steps have been taken successfully to increase the Indian Army's ammunition reserves. The world's second-largest standing army's tanks and air defence units and soldiers had reserves of around 20 days of ammunition to fight a full-scale war.

Now, a senior official says, the capacity is steadily increasing and will be much higher in less than a year. The labour problems of local ordnance factories have been resolved.

A government source says that companies like L&T which are eying the $18 billion (about Rs 111,600 crore/Rs 1.116 trillion) plus contracts have been asked to accept less lucrative assisgnments from the defence sector.

One senior BJP leader told Rediff.com, "We told them if you want to help India make submarines (which have huge profit margins) then also make some tanks (which have a lower margin) too."

Even though Modi has shown reluctance in moving swiftly on the Lokpal issue, the Prime Minister's Office and the Bharatiya Janata Party machinery are sensitive to the issue of corruption.

Since the government is in its first year, it is apparent that the word scam scares them. This is usually the case with all newcomers in government.

The Modi government's plan of announcing a revamped National Ganga River Basin Authority has been much delayed. Steadily, new ideas are under test. Top level sources claim that the Indian Army has agreed to spare its soldiers in non-border areas to handle and help in the mammoth process of cleaning and monitoring the Ganga in nine states.

On both banks of the Ganga, certain areas will be marked and soldiers will be deputed to monitor and implement the plan.

Another sensitive item for the government is inflation. The government and the party think that the management of the prices of food, edible oil, sugar, wheat and rice is its most important function. At least in the first seven months, by plan or by default, the government has been alert on this.

Like its critics, the government understands that falling oil prices has helped control inflation. But to lift the growth rate, Modi's larger focus is on increasing the productivity of Indian agriculture.

The concerned ministries have deliberated on the issue. They have concluded that:

A small percentage of people need to be moved away from dependence on agriculture. Modi's entire drumming up of the idea of skills development is all about shifting agro-dependent young Indians to small and large scale industries after developing their skills.

The undemocratic route of ordinance for the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 is targeting land for industrial corridors and for irrigation in rural areas.

Without the Act, Modi's plan for the agriculture sector will fall flat. It is also needed to plan ambitious smart cities.

Modi's major focus is on creating conditions for Indian farmers to make farming productive. At present, Indian productivity per acre is less than Brazil and less than half that of China. The government claims that fewer dependents per acre, more irrigation in rural areas and wide use of drip irrigation methods will raise productivity.

Higher agriculture growth will only help in the long run. Modi has held many meetings with various ministries and experts to change agriculture policies. Files travel up and down government corridors on the issue of how to impart skills training to rural youth.

Another issue bothering the new government is electricity.

If and when BJP President Amit Shah starts thinking of the 2019 Lok Sabha election campaign he will think about the promise of electricity. Modi has no option but to show substantial change in the current situation.

The government in its defence of the ordinance on coal mines says that gas and nuclear-based electricity producing stations will eventually make coal-based power producing stations redundant.

Experts have told Modi that by 2030 India's coal mines will lose their value substantially. Before the coal crash, it is important to dig it out and use it in nation building. The government has kick-started e-auction of coal already. It plans to give away cheap coal to the producers of electricity.

In fact, businessman Gautam Adani's much-reported investment in coal mines in Australia and his plan to export coal to India will eventually become unprofitable if the Modi government sticks to its schedule and allots coal mines to electricity producers. Only time will tell if the cheap supply of coal by the Modi government will end up in cheap power supply to consumers.

A BJP leader, who is part of the core group making decisions, told Rediff.com that the haste in pushing the insurance bill is for short-term economic gain. The government needs dollars to boost the economy.

Ministers are defensive when they argue that the haste in pushing the insurance bill is not to please President Barack Obama, who will be the chief guest at this year's Republic Day parade. The Opposition, they say, did not allow the government to table the insurance bill in Parliament, saying Obama's visit could not decide the deadline for such an important bill.

When asked about the undemocratic route to promulgate various ordinances, the senior BJP leader asked, "What is the connection between coal and conversion?"

"How can you stop sorting out the mess in the coal sector, so vital to the economy, by taking on the government on the conversion issue?" he asked.

When argued that the ordinance route is an "issue of impropriety", he counter-argued, "To save foreign exchange by reducing the import of coal at higher prices is an issue of impropriety? Not for us. We will positively give cheaper power if we use coal from Indian mines to produce power."

Modi's critics will respond that if wishes were horses, Modi's voters would fly.

These days BJP leaders, a bit arrogantly, boast it is time Modi's government of aspirations is not taken lightly.

While the Modi government is trying and testing ideas for pushing its 'Make in India' initiative, in bringing Goods and Services Tax regime, trying to make things happen in the railways, agriculture, Ganga purification and skills development in a big way, Modi's political hand is fast-forwarded already.

One look at BJP President Amit Shah's itinerary will intimidate Modi's critics.

On January 2, Shah flew to Mumbai to campaign for the BJP's membership drive.

On January 3, he is in Bangalore. He will visit 22 states by June to reach his target of 8o million plus BJP members. Already 285,000 Indians have called the BJP hotline on 1800-266-2020 to become members. In the next stage, 30 million plus Indians will be met physically and handed over BJP reading material.

In September around 1.5 million BJP members will be given well-defined training. The BJP claims it is the biggest political training programme ever undertaken in any country. The syllabus is being prepared by a team of experts. This massive exercise will ensure that what the government does reaches the people quickly through proper channels. This was totally missing in the UPA government.

Everywhere Shah goes, he meets the local media, he calls all the state office-bearers and addresses public meetings. He trumpets the Modi government's achievements. Within 30 days he will visit Orissa, Uttarkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar and Assam.

He travels Indigo which does not have business class. He has banned all BJP leaders from taking chartered flights at party expense. He has even withdrawn the party freebies to senior leaders if they have state-given security.

Shah knows that the alliance with the Akali Dal in Punjab will need a review next year. To keep away from the anti-Akali mood in the state he is participating in a padyatra against the drug menace in February.

Modi has already launched 'Man ki Baat' on All India Radio. This programme should be heard attentively by all Modi watchers. It is an announcement of the political path where the BJP and the government will work in tandem. So far, on the issue of black money and on the drug menace in Punjab, Modi has spoken sensitively in his radio addresses.

Correspondingly, the government has planned a massive transfer of Border Security Force officers posted at the Pakistan-Punjab border to ensure that drug smuggling is controlled efficiently.

Many observers have written year-end reviews of the Modi government juxtaposing the 'Make in India' plan and his initiatives in diplomacy with his silence on issues like conversions and on the ugly voices of the Mahatma's murderer Nathuram Godse's supporters.

Those who have seen the functioning of the Modi government in Gujarat from 2001 to 2014 know that the issues related to Hindutva and issues of economy and growth function simultaneously. Modi's politics are based on the understanding of the middle-class consumer society which is in pursuit of material aspirations.

Modi's Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan and Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna are more for channelising planned sarkari funds and energising public participation. Shah, Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley are round-the-clock focussed in setting the agenda for debates. It is likely to remain so in 2015.

Those who know Modi know well that the issue of conversions and Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti's utterances do not shake him as much as hits to his image when his government filed that affidavit to review an earlier Supreme Court judgement in the black money case which doubted Modi's sincerity to his voters. The prime minister swiftly swung into action and corrected that impression by speaking about it on his radio broadcast.

It is not difficult to understand the trajectory of the Modi Raj. The bottom-line lies here: No wrong-doing at the cost of his personal image.

Image: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Sunil Gavaskar, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Kapil Dev at the Melbourne Cricket ground. Photograph: PTI photo

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Sheela Bhatt/Rediff.com in New Delhi
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