Columns/Op-Eds, In the News, Politics / Globalisation

Modi must re-establish the power of the Executive at the Centre

PUBLISHED: 21:46 GMT, 4 June 2014, Mail Online India, Mail Today

Original Link is here

Task ahead: Prime Minister will have to clear an economic landscape that has been cluttered with debris from the previous ten years


NaMo 282.0 is in an unenviable position. The astonishing majority he singularly scripted for the BJP and its allies surprised most, including his party and perhaps even himself.

This mandate also disappointed a number of others. The Congress for one must now surely realise that “poverty pornography” and “pseudo-secular” positioning have now reached their sell-by date.

The BJP’s allies will also have seen the writing on the wall – that they will be able to secure a ministerial berth at the centre, but will neither have a veto over the BJP leader nor will their tantrums affect the political trajectory of this government.

And finally, some within the BJP would recognise this mandate as a vote against the factions within the party that were gleefully awaiting a fractured verdict, which would in turn have allowed them some weight over the PM and the PMO.


Nonetheless, this is an unenviable position to be in for the Prime Minister. This huge mandate comes with commensurate expectations.

With little by way of a fail-safe or escape route #NaMo ran the campaign on the promise of better days or “achche din” and that is exactly what most of us will be seeking from him.

The most obvious task before Modi will be to revive India’s growth narrative. This narrative is as central to the millions living in poverty in this country as it is to the entrepreneurial class that is competing with the world.

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The message to domestic and global audiences has to be both clear and simple; India is back and it is open for business.

To achieve this, the Prime Minister will be required to navigate a complex policy terrain. He will have to clear an economic landscape that has been cluttered with debris from the previous ten years.

And most importantly, he will now have to clear the most important real estate that had been lost to others over the past decade – the policy space of the ‘Executive’.

This real estate, the policy domain of the executive, will need to be reclaimed from a number of encroachers including crony capitalists, regulators, legal institutions, activist groups and the media itself.

A nebulous National Advisory Council that seemed only created to develop unsustainable schemes and undermine the PMO; a revertal to failed “fabian socialist ideology” where profit was pariah and corporates were criminals; a weak central leadership unable to combat and act against corruption; and a central cabinet where every Minister thought of himself or herself as a Prime Minister, resulted in rampant rent-seeking, policy-gaming, and a fragile executive.

#NaMo’s first set of actions will have to be to reassert the primacy of the executive. There are three balancing acts required:


Due to the perverse environment of the past years, citizens and media had goaded, invited and encouraged the intervention of the Judiciary into the policy space.

The institution of last resort became the first port of call for remedying everything that seemed to be going wrong.

Some termed it judicial activism, others commended this decisiveness to protect national interest.

Whatever the description, nature abhors a vacuum and when the executive leadership was weak and feeble, another had to step in.

The new dispensation at the Centre will have to delicately rebalance this role. Instead of deciding the fairness and legality of some of the constitutional challenges of a growing nation, the judiciary has been forced to cross the rubicon and into the policy space reserved for the elected.

#NaMo will have to reverse this trend and make decisions his predecessor could not have, and the judiciary need not have.

His second step would be to limit the power of the new gatekeepers – the regulators. Between 1947 and 1990 India’s economic policy was governed by “License Raj”, which has now transitioned to “Regulator Raj”.

In the financial sector alone, India has at least four different regulators. Policy is now dependent on clearance by bodies originally intended for creating a friendly and/or stable economic condition.

For example, the mandate of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) is to audit the expenditure and receipts of the government and not to dictate how it should be spending or allocating resources.

While interventions may have been necessary when an emboldened cabinet was free to make decisions, without a strong executive chaperone, the role of the regulator now must return to the original mandate.

We have reached the ridiculous stage when a regulator will soon decide which fighter jet India should procure and at what price.

The accountant must be consigned to the accounts book.


Finally, #NaMo will also have to wrestle policy decisions out of the hands of the media panels at primetime.

Less than 10% per cent of homes with TV sets, watch news and less than ten per cent of those homes watch English news.

Yet, anchors and media personalities claim to speak for the nation. With the previous dispensation these media maharajas could sway government decisions – forcing the discarding of an ordinance for instance and they could challenge executive decisions, including mundane transfers and postings.



The PM’s mandate comes with a long list of development expectations



Babus of all ranks leaked files to the media, disgruntled elements used the media to create controversy and soon the primetime panel was the ‘durbar’ of choice to undermine, scuttle and challenge executive decisions.


This role of recalibration of the media may be the toughest of tasks for the new executive. But the Prime Minister has the mandate.


He also has the experience of managing many of these institutions while he was Chief Minister of Gujarat. And if he can reignite the economy he will also have the authority to wrestle back the executive space.


The writer is senior fellow and vice president at the Observer Research Foundation









Columns/Op-Eds, In the News, Politics / Globalisation

Why Kejriwal is now India’s Mr 5%

Published: 21:51 GMT, 16 April 2014 , Mail Online India, Mail Today

Original link is here

AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal cannot succeed in politics if India thrives

Borrowing the term for former Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, India now has its own 5% man – Arvind Kejriwal.

While both are products of abysmal government failure, this is where the similarity ends. Zardari was nicknamed Mr 10% for the percentage of (alleged) kickbacks he received on government deals. In that sense he was a mirror who reflected the reality of the failure of governance in Pakistan.

Kejriwal is Mr 5% for completely different reasons. He is the intersection of hysteria and despair, born of a less than 5% Indian GDP growth rate in recent times.

If the irresponsible economics he so loves is the cause of India’s failures, his popularity and agitprop politics is the effect of that failure. He is the cause and effect – the ultimate symbol of the patriarchy that permeates existing models of development, and the concomitant despair that epitomises the failure of the social contract between India’s citizens and their government.


India’s economic growth rate over the last year and more has dipped sharply. With a fast-growing and largely poor population, growth below 5% is punishing. It means that job creation cannot match demand. It means government revenues dry up and even basic public services become difficult to deliver.

Indeed the effects of each percentage point decline in India’s growth are felt the most by those who are at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid, an effect of two decades of highly skewed growth.

Over the last decade, revenue spending based initiatives of the UPA such as the MNREGA kept the aspirations of those at the bottom of the pyramid on hold. However, such schemes have not delivered real jobs, real skills, real productivity or even a robust form of social security that enhances livelihood prospects.

A burgeoning fiscal deficit has necessitated spending cuts across various arms of the Government, and has resulted in even slower capital creation within the Indian economy. The net effect is now hopelessness of a new kind, one that stems from being denied all that was within reach.

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Fuelled by this sense of loss and vulnerability, high levels of social discontent have given rise to Arvind Kejriwal and his motley crew of social engineers, lawyers, journalists, bankers and others, each a product of the times of 8% plus GDP growth rate, who have capitalised on the anger and restlessness of the masses to create a political platform.

Mr 5% and his party are products of the misrule rather than any organic political impulse. While the failures of the Congress-led UPA, has allowed Kejriwal to find numbers for his rallies, the lack of political leadership and understanding of the cross-cutting social ferment, has become his party’s Achilles heel.

The UPA Government’s falling back upon small, non-executive bodies and individuals that controlled the actions of the Prime Minister’s Office and other functionaries should have provided Kejriwal with a good lesson on the effects of a dissipated leadership.

The National Advisory Council (NAC), set up in 2004 to implement the National Common Minimum Program became the rather nebulous command and control centre of the Government of India.


The NAC failed miserably on two counts – first it was fiscally irresponsible and did not create sustainable programmes, instead depending on perpetual handouts by the government.

On the other hand, its rights-based agenda, completely ignored the acute enforcement and delivery deficit that plagues India.

Is it any surprise then that fringes of the same cast, who pushed 10 years of failed policies, completely divorced from fiscal responsibility or pragmatism, have now migrated to a political movement that brooks no criticism, stifles any opposition, provides no solutions except blaming everybody else and refuses to take responsibility for its own actions?

While some of Kejriwal’s former mentors are left sulking – Anna Hazare, Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander – others like Yogendra Yadav have found a new lease of life.

Riding on a wave of failure and despair, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has found support without ever feeling the need to articulate an agenda beyond fighting corruption and running a movement where conspiracy theories, slander and an acute persecution complex substitute for any meaningful governance agenda.


Riding failure however comes at a price. If the BJP riding the religion wave has to target minorities, the BSP riding the Dalit wave has to target other castes. Riding the failure wave means you have to target success in its entirety, any manifestation of prosperity and wellbeing have to be brought in the crosshairs and shot down – after all misery loves company.

Here Mr 5% plays identity politics of a particularly insidious kind, pitting the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ One need not be a great proponent of psephology or sociology to know that in such stark circumstances, anger and restiveness can very easily be targeted against those who are part of the mainstream economic growth.

If the economic right talks of expanding the “pie”, socialists talk of distributing the “pie” equitably. The response of Kejriwal and his aides is to do neither – they attack ‘pie’ expansion and refuse to give any practical solutions for ‘pie’ distribution. They state the obvious but offer no practical solutions.

How can they? After all AAP and failure have a deeply symbiotic relationship. That Kerjiwal’s 5% revolution is structurally weak, is evident from the weekly swings in its (perceived) popular support. These swings also reflect the current volatility of the Indian economy. All he has done is link his political fortunes inversely to India’s fortunes.

For Kejriwal to succeed, India must fail, for India to succeed, Kejriwal must fail. Should India achieve a 7% growth rate Kejriwal becomes a paragraph, at 8% a footnote and at 9% not even a comma in a history book.

The writer is Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.