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