by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
Only two years are past since the installation of the NDA government led by Narendra Modi. It is therefore distinctly premature to pass a judgment. Some governments begin well but get miserably clogged up half way through, like it happened with the second UPA government piloted by Manmohan Singh. It dived headfirst into an unending cesspool of corruption charges, and got terminally tainted. On the other hand, the Rajiv Gandhi-led government began in 1985 amid great euphoria, until rumour of corruption in defence deals became so shrill that every attempt by the government to silence it seemed phoney and the prime minister’s name became mud.
Modi seems to have learnt lessons from the above example, and his promise of “Congress mukt” India is actually a commitment to keep his administration free from the stench of corruption. Unlike Manmohan Singh, Modi is a hands-on PM. Perhaps, this is the reason why there has been no charge of financial depravity in any of the ministries till now. To ensure that the clean image of his administration sustains, Modi has been particularly insistent on transparent e-auction of the natural resources, be it coal, oil or natural resources.
But a prime minister is not rated high simply if he keeps his nose clean. Modi has sparks of originality that marks him out from his contemporaries. Jan Dhan Yojana is an example. On the face of it, it is a simple plan to give a bank account to every unbanked poor. It is another matter that 21.43 crore such accounts have been created under the JDY scheme in less than two years, with the share of ‘zero-balance’ (therefore, nominal) being 27 per cent and falling. But the idea is not to turn the poor Indian into saver overnight. It is rather a financial architecture for direct transfer of all future state subsidies and grants, thus eliminating the pressure of middlemen that has plagued welfare since Independence.
In a sense, Modi is truly a Gujarati trader at heart and understands the importance of cost-cutting through disintermediation. His idea of Digital India and Smart City as well as Smart Village may sound nebulous. But, when completed, they are all about transforming Indian business from the old chaupal, and the gaggles of middlemen, to transparent and speedy transactions in real time. In India, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Gurugram came up not due to any governmental thinking but because telecommunication became faster and cheaper so an opportunity arose for Indians to do offshore maintenance jobs. Modi, with his digital thrust, now wants to turn this opportunity into a bold new venture, with a programme like ‘Make in India’. Samsung the Korean giant, is now setting up a unit in Noida near Delhi to make a line of its mobile phones. Recently, when Timothy Cook, chief of Apple, visited India and met Modi, he was clearly told that he could launch Apple Stores in India if only he used some (30%) made-in-India products. In fact, most foreign IT biggies, including Microsoft Corporation and Cisco Systems, have of late increased their manpower and investments in India. Huwaei, the Chinese telecoms major, has started a research & development centre in Bengaluru. That Modi puts his finger on the economy shows in his MUDRA scheme for financing six crore small vendors and businessmen, 61 per cent of whom are minorities, SC, ST or OBC. Maybe he could relate to their condition, being a tea seller at a railway station once.
Modi can think and dream big. He has persuaded Airbus Industries of France and the Tata Group to begin collaboration on design and manufacture of a military transport aircraft. Airbus has already begun manufacturing some of its parts in India. These are the first green shoots of high-tech industry in India, a sector in which India lags not only behind the Asian major powers like Japan, Korea and China but newcomers like Thailand and Vietnam. To facilitate entry of high technology, FDI cap on defence industries has been pushed up to 49 per cent and Indian firms like L&T, assigned to make nuclear submarines, are potential conduits for transfer of sophisticated technology.
Some of the things that outwardly appear to be Modi’s mere fads, like yoga, for that matter, are actually smart ideas to improve public health at low cost, and creating jobs. In this year so far the government of Haryana has given jobs to 25,000 persons as yoga instructors. Similarly, his Namami Ganga scheme for cleaning up North India’s arterial river, for which a budget of Rs 20,000 crore is allocated, should create a chain of municipal waste disposal projects along the river. It is a national renewal scheme on an unprecedented scale with a huge potential of creating jobs.
In his first two years, if his conduct seems somewhat puzzling, it is in his silence about the mindless outbursts of his party’s fringe elements. Their missiles are not always limited to a bigoted version of art and culture, or ancient history of their choice. Despite Modi, as it appears, Subramanian Swamy, a machinator par excellence and newly appointed BJP member of the Rajya Sabha, is firing salvos at RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan on trumped up charges. When Rajan was under attack from the finance ministry for his stubbornness and refusing to reduce interest rates, Modi had stepped in April last year saying he is a good teacher. But this time Modi has preferred to practically remain non-committal on the controversy. He may be upset with Rajan for not reducing interest rates for high growth despite low inflation. Modi cannot remain maun like his predecessor Manmohan Singh and is nor an “accidental prime minister” either. His has pressed the pause button in terms of launching new schemes and fully focussed on implementing programs already launched as next coming two years are crucial for him to establish that he is not an accidental choice.