Modi government will complete 2 years this May. Has the government done enough to lay the foundation of a transformation that India so badly needs? Has it done enough to return to power in 2019? And what should be its agenda for the three years it still has in office?
As a keeper, guardian and manager of the natural and economic resources, the government has the primary responsibility of managing them in a way so as to creates an environment where people can go freely in pursuit of their happiness and their enterprise.
India has critical challenges to address here in managing it’s natural and economic resources. Improper management of these resources impoverish people and creates impediments in their pursuits.
Natural Resources - We have a serious limitation here. Bad management of these resources so far has resulted in poor air quality, water shortage, soil degradation, food and water contamination etc., seriously threatening the wellbeing of individuals and communities and imposing huge costs on the economy. Is enough being done to conserve, rejuvenate and make best use this wealth?
Human Resources - Over 400 million young Indians need jobs, a way to express themselves and explore their potential. It is critical to engage their energies not just to mitigate social discontent but to make for a nation of happier, richer and more confident people.
Financial & Economic Environment - This is the foundation of all economic activities. Here again poor management worsens the distress originating from limited resources. The more effective we are at managing and building these resources, the more we multiply our potential for growth and economic strength, the greater our economic strength, the greater the degree of our freedom.
These are at once big challenges and great opportunities for India at the moment. Poor management so far has resulted in painfully slow progress for our people as measured against almost all counts of Human Development Index.
So how has the Modi government fared when measured against the above framework to effect a transformation?
The government does seem to be working well in reversing this trend.
A combination of programs for Clean Energy, expansion of Energy Efficient Public Transportation, creation of a new Digital Infrastructure, Rejuvenation of Rivers & Farms and Pro-Environment Policies by the government are likely to make a significant positive impact on the environment & management of natural resources.
Platforms such as the JAM, Rural Electrification, eNAM, Stand Up India, Start Up India, Rural Roads, Skill Development etc. are opening up immense opportunities for the young with the potential for transformational impacts on their lives.
Innovative economic measures such as a new mobile payment mechanism, cleaning up the banking system, an under control budget deficit and inflation, attracting historically high FDI, and creating new opportunities in the manufacturing sector all bode well for the immediate growth prospects of the economy. The government has also done well in opening up new business opportunities for large and small enterprises through initiatives such as private defense production, smart city projects, solar power, infrastructure projects etc.
Accelerating the Transformation Agenda
Despite the many good initiatives addressing the three pillars of transformation, a long list can still be made of things yet to be done. And it is important to recognise that the government cannot attempt to do all of this by itself. The government must focus its agenda on creating a platform that enables private enterprise to participate in these initiatives. The task is enormous and participation of the private enterprise is the best way to expand the resources available for such transformational projects. The government can never match the execution focus of the private sector, although it can provide the execution capacity via capital expenditure.
Finding innovative ways to engaging the private enterprise is badly needed. Take an example of the much hyped Namami Gange project. It is not very difficult to involve private enterprises for water treatment and putting in place pollution control equipments and systems. Such an involvement makes for a good public relations case for the private enterprises. Currently, we see several dedicated individuals running sharamdaan programs. While extremely well-intentioned, these volunteer efforts can never match the organisational & execution capabilities of enterprises. Why not extend Modi’s clarion call of volunteer work from individuals to enterprises? As the Ministry of Power has shown, such participation need not even be subsidized. The private enterprises only need to be shown a profitable opportunity to participate in a government program at a large scale and they will be happy to contribute to a social cause which makes them money in these tough global economic times.
Another area that could benefit from large scale private investment is expansion of quality education. The several opportunities which India has today will remain unexploited if the underlying delivery depth does not catch up. Opening up the education sector to private enterprise with a focus on enabling regulations to ensure quality is perhaps the biggest reform this government can take up in the next three years.
First the bad news - without a growth in its core vote share, BJP risks losing many state governments to a combined opposition. With it comes the constant threat for obstruction and slow adoption of transformational initiatives, driven by vested interests. More importantly it can eat into Modi’s authority within the party giving room for disgruntled elements to manufacture trouble and create unnecessary distractions.
But here’s the good news - Congress doesn’t look like it has learnt one bit from its 2014 defeat. It has done nothing in the last two years to recreate the capacity to mount a serious challenge to the Modi government in 2019. And because it is the only likely centre of gravity for a possible alternate government, Modi isn’t yet at risk of a 2004 style debacle.
But to win 2019 comprehensively (which he would need to deliver on his longer term economic & social transformation vision) Narendra Modi needs to engage people at three levels - create clearly identified personal economic benefits, drive emotional engagement and nurture a positive sense of community.
The Agenda for 2019
Modi government seems to be doing a lot for benefiting individuals at a personal economic level like - affordable life Insurance, access to cooking gas, skilling programs, farm insurance and so on. But is this enough to win in 2019? Maybe not. What the Modi government seems to be falling short on is in emotionally engaging the people and building a strong sense of community.
Modi’s popularity across India came from him reminding the people of the best of our history. He filled the voters with hope and belief that those glory days of the past could be resurrected. It is time to retell those stories in greater depth, with a wider perspective and to spread them further. Maybe changing school books might not be possible without kicking up a storm. But it should be possible to create dedicated history channels on TV and social media, to tell the stories of the best of our past. Linking our heritage to the direction of the current economic program via available media like Doordarshan and AIR and exploiting the reach of social media is critical. The experiment of the DD Bharati channel should be replicated to cover our history, tradition, geography and modern day achievements of our people.
Temples and festivals have always been at the centre of economy, culture and community for centuries in India. It is time we rejuvenate them and strengthen those linkages. The minimum the state and local BJP governments can do is to undertake measures ensuring cleanliness and improving facilities to make these places popular again, including to the young who should be persuaded to view this from a socio-cultural lens rather than a religious one.
Rarely do we see a celebration such as when India won the world cup in 2011. People poured out on the streets and celebrated till late into the night. It was a spontaneous outpouring of joy and emotion. Sports can bring us together as a people cutting across the boundaries of casteism and regionalism. Bringing the junior world cup football to India in 2017 is a great start. More investment needs to be made to propel us upwards into the league of top sporting nations and instil greater belief and pride in ourselves. Besides it would be a very useful channeling of energies of our young.
The lack of pride, confidence and emotional connect with our traditions, community and land, makes our people easy prey for the mongers of hopelessness, fear and defeat, in other words people who play the politics of entitlement, poverty, caste, regionalism and division.
The economic benefits can be promoted and pushed alongside three hitherto unexploited channels for emotional engagement - history, temples, and sports.
In summary, the Modi government needs to find innovative ways to co-opt the private enterprise for a quicker and larger transformational impact. And to win in 2019 Narendra Modi must work on emotionally engaging the people into common cause and strengthening their bonds with the community and the nation.
The author wishes to thank Aashish Chandokar (@c_aashish on twitter) for his very useful inputs in making this article more readable
The article originally appeared in an abridged form in SwarajayaMag on 9th May 2016