Sunday 12 July 2015

In ModiYear 2, expect Minimum Government (Sunday Guardian)

M.D Nalapat is the Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian.

From the start, this columnist has asserted that only by the third ModiYear (beginning mid-2017) will the changes introduced by the first Prime Minister of India since 1984 to win a majority of his own in the Lok Sabha become obvious, and that the first two years will be a period of churn, that on the surface may disappoint those expecting instant growth in the manner of some brands of coffee. Although both newspaper headlines as well as television screens are these days filled with news negative to the BJP, yet the effects of such an assault will be positive, should it serve as a warning to the party that it needs to go far beyond the ethical and performance standards of the Vajpayee period. Clearly, adjustments will need to be made in both approach as well as personnel, and hopefully both will happen within ModiYear 2. Also, that the ambient noise of politics should not stop the BJP from ensuring — if needed through a joint seating of Parliament — the passage of legislation such as the GST and Land Bills. Indeed, if the latter is as toxic as the Congress Party claims it is, then why is the party blocking its passage? Is it to stop the BJP from becoming unpopular as a result of its passage, as the former ruling party claims will happen, or is it the fear that such passage would in fact give oxygen to the impulse for growth within the economy, so that by 2019, it will become clear that Modi is delivering on his promise of stability and growth? Should the GST and the Land Bills not get cleared in the monsoon session, it would indicate to the world that the new government is as unable to frame and to actualise new policies as its predecessor was. "Third time lucky" and legislative success during the monsoon session have, therefore, become a political imperative.
One of the reasons for poverty in India is the time taken on decisions and their implementation. 
Minimum Government does not mean a small Council of Ministers, but rather a cutting down of procedures. Where a file took more than 15 signatures to become final, only five should do. And any up and down movement of a file should stop. Either a file should travel up or it should move down, and once the final (of a maximum of five) point has been reached, practical action rather than yet more remarks on paper needs to be taken. Such a change in process and procedure needs to take place well before the close of 2017, if not earlier. Among the reasons for the poverty of India is the time taken to both take decisions as well as implement them, and for too many factors, each of which can delay if not destroy a project. Whether it be a legal case or a governmental decision about a project, only if less than 10% take up to three years to conclude, while 50% get done within six months, can a country be said to have an effective system of governance. Taking more than three years should involve penalties on those guilty of such sloth, while those taking quick decisions need to be rewarded, and not by a knock on the door by the CBI, which is ever suspicious of decisions which take less than a decade to make. The fact is that cheats and crooks are expert in ensuring that processes get followed to the letter, while it is the innocent who are often careless, and who therefore become vulnerable to the attentions of what must be among the most corrupt anti-corruption agencies in the world.
Minimum Government means Maximum Empowerment of the people. Ideally, a citizen ought to be able to spend an entire life without once having to visit a government office, using online communication to get things done. Apart from being a check on the generation of black money, the online registration and indexation of land and building assets by each citizen would be a useful measure to adopt. This would also reduce scams such as the sale of property through the use of false documents, or impersonation and forgery. Secondly, the freedoms of the citizen need to be expanded and not reduced. In such a context, the argument that criminal defamation is an essential part of democracy deserves to be condemned. In Modi Year 2, there needs to be a rejection of the many statutes dating back to the period of British rule, which extinguish the rights of the citizen and prevent him or her from reaching the potential possible in a country where individual rights are given much greater status. Prime Minister Modi needs to confront those who are votaries of the Sibal-Chidambaram "Police Constable" model of governance, so as to ensure that the economy grows, and with that, social stability.
The Gujarati community worldwide presents an illustration of what is possible through individual empowerment — or "epowerment" — and what is needed is to ensure that the regulatory system in India is as friendly to individuals as is the case in the UK or the US, two countries where the community has excelled. In ModiYear 2, what is needed is an acceleration of empowerment of the citizen, through ease of securing data and speed in its transmission. Through lower imposts and higher collections and coverage. Through a light rather than a heavy hand of governance, save for those who are threats to the security of the country. Now that we are in ModiYear 2, it is time for the Prime Minister's call for "Minimum Government and Maximum Governance" to get implemented by each agency of the state.

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