STOPS HERE Th e Modi government has just about completed its 100 days, and media is a buzz with polls, analyses, commentaries and opinions, as news competes with views for a judgement of the biggest game of the week, namely, how Modi Sarkar has performed during the past three plus months. NRI Achievers trawled the media both national and international, to garner and present you with a cross-section of thoughts on the subject. Do read on …
When FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) was sworn in as the president of the United States in March 1933 amid the burgeoning blight of the Great Depression, America’s mood and sentiment were at its nadir. He chose to begin his tenure with an inspiring speech that had many memorable catch-phrases, including: “Th is nation asks for action, and action now.” In the following three-and-a-half months, Roosevelt lived up to those stirring words, walking his talk to the very hilt. Th ere were dramatic pronouncements of economic and social policy, followed up with a whole fl urry of legislations that were pushed through Congress. And the rest was history. And history apropos came to know of this period as Roosevelt’s “Hundred Days.” Ever since, it has perforce become the gold standard by which any new government across the globe is measured. India’s own equivalent of Roosevelt’s 100 days fi rst came about in the year 1991, when PV Narasimha Rao took it upon himself to change the trajectory of India’s growth by recasting economic policy. Jairam Ramesh, who spent precisely 100 days in Rao’s PMO before getting kicked upstairs to the Planning Commission, later wrote an evocative essay on Rao’s 100 days, and the foundational chapter of India’s liberalisation that is quite an interesting read. Th e expression “100 days,” came back to the fore once again in May 2009, when UPA-2 assumed office, with a whole bevy of its ministers announcing 100-day targets with pomp. Th at was indeed the acme of UPA’s second term, before internal contradictions reared their heads and brought everything to naught within weeks. Th e 100-day programmes were never realised, and went on to become a cruel joke of sorts.
When Narendra Modi swept the polls this year with a landslide victory to get an absolute majority, the ‘100- days’ paradigm was once again dredged up and bandied about, leading to all sorts of expectations. Now that the NDA government has completed 100 days of its electoral victory on the 16th of August, and with 27th of August marking 100 days since Modi’s election as the leader of BJP’s Parliamentary party, the time to take stock has come according to some sections. Barely a fortnight ago, a leading current aff airs news magazine carried an opinion poll on the performance of the Modi government, the results were quite laudatory. Foreign media, news websites and agencies have also carried their own assessments of Modi’s fi rst 100 days. A Reuters report quoted economist Bibek Debroy as saying, “as of now, the momentum … of the Modi government … is lost. Th ey might still recover it, but we have lost the moment”. Former Bangladeshi diplomat Ashfaqur Rahman, in an article published in Th e Daily Star, a leading English newspaper of Bangladesh, commenting on the Modi government, said that “to date, there is not much to see on the ground. Th ere is not much action, but indeed, as reports go, there is a lot more planning and preparation taking place to put Modi’s electoral commitments to work. Th e big question is where exactly the Modi Sarkar has started working.” Nicholas Spiro, writing in the South China Morning Post, said: “as Modi nears the end of his fi rst 100 days in offi ce, the sense among investors is that the new government may have wasted its honeymoon period by failing to launch radical fi scal and structural reforms”. Countering such commentaries in general, former BJP idealogue Govindacharya, in defence of the government’s approach until now, tells media that the Sarkar ought to be given more time, at least until the next Budget, before a realistic assessment of its performance could become meaningful. Coming back to the 100-day paradigm and the take of the Modi government on the same, it does seem that any media blitzkrieg to mark its 100 days in offi ce seems quite unlikely. But what does seem likely is that the NDA Government will engage the press and talk about its doings since taking charge on May 26, well aware that its performance will be judged by media and its pundits as it completes 100 days in offi ce. Preparations are discreet. The official spokespersons of BJP deny any major campaign, and IOs (information offi cers) of key ministries are either denying knowledge of the ‘100-day campaign’ or confi rming it on condition of anonymity. Th e strategy seems to suggest that the exercise will not be called 100 days of the Modi government, but all important ministers, subject to their convenience, will address press meets starting the fi rst week of September. Th ese conferences will focus on the initiatives taken by the ministries concerned over the past three months. Such showcasing of the government’s accomplishments, it is felt, would help the BJP in the coming Assembly elections in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Haryana and Jammu & Kashmir.
Sources within the establishment suggest that all ministries are busy notching up their showcasables. North Block, home to the fi nance and home ministries, is presumably the busiest of all. Infrastructure ministries, such as the Nitin Gadkari-led Surface Transport, Rural Development and Portsministries, and the Power & Coal ministries under Piyush Goyal, are said to be preparing their report cards as well. However, there is now a mystery surrounding these ‘100-day agendas.’ On the 29th of May, BJP spokespersons had gone to town aft er the fi rst Cabinet meeting, claiming that the PM had directed all ministers to prepare a timeline for action for the fi rst 100 days. Today, bureaucrats deny there was any talk of a 100-day plan. But if we browse to the Prime Minister’s personal blog, narendramodi.in, it seems evident that a ‘100-day agenda’ did exist. his blog post, ‘Setting the Agenda from Day 1’, dated June 7, reads: “Th e PM met ministers individually and all ministers were asked to prepare 100-day blueprints for the work of their ministries”. It further adds that “ministers were clearly told that the focus was on governance and service delivery, not camera optics and statements”. Very tellingly, the PM himself has so far refrained from explicitly advertising this timeline, and indeed, the Modi government is today neither presenting any 100-day report card with fanfare nor making any eff ort to treat the day as worthy of any special attention. It will probably pass, like much in this government’s life so far, as a series of media events that Modi and his team stay at the pheriphery of. But having said that, what indeed would Modi’s own 100-day assessment be ? Th at of course is a diff erent question, grist for another windmill. One probable reasonwhy the PM is not all that excited by the idea of highlighting this 100-day report card as a set of achievements seems most certainly a function of his realisation that the challenges beforehis government are simply too complexand vast to be rectifi ed by gimmicky and quick-fi x lists. Th e abject failure of the UPA government to deliver in 2009 could also have infl uenced him. And as the July 10 budget also made it clear, Modi and his team have preferred a cautious start than resort to swashbuckling approaches. Th e Modi government has been criticised by several quarters for not coming up with any big ticket reforms.
The Union Budget too has been criticised for lacking big ideas, though the government had defended it by saying that only that so much could have been done in the little time it had. Th e view within the party and amoung the government’s publicity & communication minders is that the world will assess the government by its work in the fi rst 100 days, so it will help to put its own assessment out into the public domain. Th at will also compensate for the view that the PM and his government are only tweeting, not talking. So, through these proposed low-key press-meets and conferences, the government is likely to counter those critiques by letting its constituencies at least have a peep at the big picture, through the many small steps so far taken. Another likely feather in the Modi government’s cap could be the comparison its fi rst 100-day period in offi ce with those of the Manmohan Singh led UPA-1 and UPA2. Comparison will obviously put the NDA’s record in good light, given that the Modi government’s performance so far has been a lot more effi cient, and decision-making speedy. Th e conscious decision to not name the exercise ‘100 days of Modi Sarkar’ seems primarily to quell the rising tide of expectations and public sentiment, since Modi’s election campaign promised ‘achchhe din’. “People want immediate results and they will evaluate ruthlessly. If you do not deliver instantly, the disillusionment will also be quicker,” avers former BJP ideologue, K N Govindacharya. But he was also quick to add that three months was too short a time to judge any government. Now, was this the only possible course for Modi to take ? Maybe, maybe not. Nonetheless, Modi has opted for it and has done so keeping in mind political and administrative capacities and capabilities as he understands them. And we will, apropos, have to live with it. But while we are at it, let us see in a nutshell what Modi’s actual achievements in the past 100 days have been. Th e opening of defence manufacturing to greater FDI is certainly a landmark one. Th ough hopes were for a cap higher than 49%, there is still keen interest shown by international business, particularly from Israel, Japan and the United States. Speaking of fi scal consolidation over the coming two-three years, with the fi rst steps taken towards an ambitious urban development mission, and the doing away of the Planning Commission in it’s present form to be replaced with a successor body that is more alive to India’s federalism, Modi has kept true to several of his election promises. Few prime ministers so far have embraced the cause of gender equity, and spoken so bluntly on women’s issues as Modi has in his early days. His repeated references to the sanitation challenge, and the promise to equip every school in India with a toilet for girls within the next one year are commendable as well. Yet, beyond all this, Modi’s principal achievement has been that intangible aura he has brought to governance, namely, the reassurance of good governance, and giving people a government that works. Today, there is a sense of Prime Ministerial authority, of somebody being really in charge, and of the buck stopping with someone, which was lacking for more than a decade now.
Governments can resort to two sorts of things once they are at the helm. Firstly, they could tailor some small but important changes to what they have inherited. Th ey could improve effi ciency, or “the ease of doing business”, as the fi nance minister calls it. They can strive to be less corrupt and more transparent. Th ey can also be less ebullient and more discreet and sober. Secondly, they can take some radical departures from the past. In his fi rst 100 days, Modi has defi nitely set the tone and done the fi rst, but surely has not attempted the second. His instincts and his mandate do necessitate the second. Th ey require him to take bold steps in reshaping contemporary history, by grabbing it by the scruff of its neck, and transforming the Indian way of doing things. But to be fair, that is perhaps a task for his fi rst 400 days — for 2015 would be a defi ning year for Modi and his government. So, as things stand, while Modi’s Prime Ministry has begun, India still awaits ‘The Modi Project.’