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PM Modi: Big challenges ahead
Opinion

PM Modi: Big challenges ahead

Hari Jaisingh

I do not wish to go into the performance of PM Modi. That is not relevant today in the light of his spectacular political show for a second term in the 2019 elections. Even several RSS personnel I met never expected such a thunderous victory. In the light of this hard fact, everything else becomes irrelevant.

However, as a people-friendly journalist, I consider it my duty to discuss ground realities so that PM Modi does not get carried away by his success. So, I shall only recall latest official data on different segments of the economy, keeping social realities aside.

First, few hours of her occupation the high profile job as India’s first full-time woman Finance and Corporate Affairs Minister, the GDP shows slipping to 5.8 per cent compared to 8.1 per cent in the corresponding period last year. This works out to be the lowest growth rate in 20 quarters. This puts India behind China after almost two years.

The latest GDP figures underline the big challenge before Nirmala Sethuraman who enjoys PM Modi’s special confidence. A shrewd strategist, she has learnt quickly the art of governance, both administratively and politically. All that is required now is the strengthening of her financial skills. I am sure she is a fast learner. She has shown her strength the way she had earlier handled the complex defence portfolio during PM Modi’s first term as Prime Minister.

Second, looking at the critical sector of labour force, the unemployment rate was 6.1 per cent in 2017-18, according to the National Statistical Office (NSO). The unemployment rates work out to be higher for both males and females. This labour force survey had not been released earlier for reasons which we can understand now.

Chief Statistician of India says: “It is a new design and a new matrix. It would be unfair to compare it with the past. This 45-year high is your interpretation. I do not want to claim that it is 45-year low or high”. I prefer to leave this matter here simply because it had already acquired controversial overtones. In any case, jobs data poses a policy challenge for PM Modi’s second term in office. There are, of course, various facets to unemployment scenario and no single data source is complete by itself. This in itself is going to be a big task for the new government.

Prime Minister Modi has added to one more mantra to his earlier two mantras. He had added “Sabka Vishwash” (everyone’s trust) to his two earlier mantras, “sabka saath, sabka vikas”, that is, development for all. I welcome these mantras. However, these mantras have to be translated into a plan of action, showing results on the ground!

It is for PM Modi to work out a plan of action to translate his mantras into realities on the ground. Will PM Modi do it? It should be possible for the PM and his high profile team. They should perform better this time on the ground. For these tasks, the ministers are expected to be well focused on the nature of challenges and priorities for action. For this purpose, PM Modi has to adopt the reformist path, but with utmost caution.

Since productivity is the key factor, it will require coordinated efforts for increased output with the help of skills development, strengthening of the public infrastructure, along with capital mobilization. Equally crucial will be energy generation. In short, the overall stress has to be on economic reforms and liberalisation while ensuring the safety network from bad loans. For this, radical reforms are necessary in the financial sector, especially in banking operations. This, in turn, will require a vigorous system of transparency and accountability.

The Prime Minister should also give a serious thought to decentralization. It may not be advisable to concentrate all the strings of power in the PMO which generally is not in touch with the changing ground realities. And any policy decision in critical rural areas of agriculture, climate changes and farmers’ dilemma on quality seeds, pricing and guidance is the job which has to be left to knowledgeable persons in these areas who are expected to perform in a coordinated manner in tune with the needs of farmers. This is the right lesson to learn from PM Modi’s first term in office so as not to repeat the mistakes of demonetization and ad hoc handling of the GST phenomenon.

India can set its economic house zooming if the persons at the helm learn to understand rural ground realities, and think and reflect before taking the plunge in policy decisions. The country cannot be run in a s state of vacuum with half-baked political experts. We have to run the country’s complex economic challenges professionally, and not by the saffron colour of the “experts”.

As for South Block, I welcome the induction of S. Jaishankar as professional External Affairs Minister, though PM Modi is known to be his own Foreign Minister. This means Jaishankar will have to adjust his role in tune with the Prime Minister’s moves and counter-moves in the global arena. Jaishankar will do well to learn from earlier External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj! She knew the art of governance as a popular public figure.

Equally crucial will be Jaishankar’s adjustment with Home Minister Amit Shah who as a close confidant of Narendra Modi has emerged as the most powerful entity in the Modi establishment.

In any case, Jaishankar’s foreign affairs moves have to be in close concert with domestic policies, especially with regard to Kashmir and other sensitive domestic matters so that overall Indian policies on the international stage acquire the requisite strategic depth which, right now, is lacking.

Be that as it may, Home Minister Amit Shah will have to be watched closely. He is not the usual run-of-the mill Home Minister. More than PM Modi, he has a mind of his own on all aspects of national policies. Gone are the days when once elected, politicians think that they are laws unto themselves.

In this context, I recall the days of Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister. Once, a journalist asked him if he had any message for the Minister. His reply was: “Let the ministers hold their chairs by all means, but let them hold these lightly and not tightly”.

Amidst evergreen serial of “kissa kursi ka”, did any of the ministers care for what Gandhi preached and practiced? They went by “I-do-not-care” attitude. I must state clearly and firmly such an attitude will no longer be tolerated by Modi-Shah duo.

India’s “virtual Prime Minister”, as stated in an article in Washington Post, has guts to strike at the root of the malaise afflicting the body politic. Thus, the ministers will have to first understand problems and tackle them with the seriousness they deserve. The art of hypocrisy hereafter will be the prerogative of a few, and not an open game for every minister!

May I also remind Narendra Modi that the politics of expediency may make or unmake individuals but it cannot make a nation great. My main concern is to provide a true mirror of the India today and there is no need to indulge in gimmickry. We have to be honest to our people. Our disparities and contrasts are so sharp that a number of bridges of understanding will have to be built for our nation-building. For this, our leaders have to come to the brass tacks of key issues on a priority basis.