Sunday 13 September 2015

The Hardik Patels won’t wait for a second term (Sunday Guardian)

To ensure an Indian Microsoft or Google, what is needed is to promote a culture of freedom and innovation across India.
lthough he has been blamed for over-centralisation, the record shows that since taking over, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in fact, has given his colleagues in the party and the government perhaps too much freedom, and that this may have had the effect, on occasion, of stifling rather than serving the PM's objective of creating a 21st-century government out of the 19th-century administrative machinery. For example, the Law Ministry has been snail-slow in ridding the statute books of the colonial-era weeds that infest it in profusion, with most laws having their origin a century or more back, in an age when a hundred days can witness comprehensive change. The Telecom Ministry initially came out in support of Section 66A of the toxic Information Technology Act, 2005. Taxes, regulations and interest rates remain high, while the delivery of services is still to show the impact of the new captain in the cockpit. Small wonder that growth is lower than capacity, with even the service sector slowing down under the extra tax outgo and paperwork necessitated by compliance to the dictates of a bureaucracy that has succeeded in ensuring that India remain a country with more desperately poor people than Sub-Saharan Africa.
With birth rates not falling enough, employment is not rising fast enough to ensure that the young get absorbed in useful occupations rather than loiter around sans paid work. There is evidence that Hardik Patel, who has lately been making somewhat of a nuisance of himself to Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, applied without success to several employment websites before apparently deciding that reservation and quotas for his community was the only route to a job. There are many millions of potential Hardik Patels across the country, hence the folly of some commentators, who claim to be supporters of Narendra Modi, but claim that a steep rise in jobs will come "only in Modi's second term". They forget that there will be no second term unless the government very substantially delivers on the promises made during the 2014 Lok Sabha campaign, and this too not in the invisible and incremental way claimed by BJP spokespersons, but in large, visible doses of reform and consequent growth. Populism is not the answer, nor will it garner votes, or the Congress party would have won 300 seats last year, rather than 44. As David Cameron showed in the UK, voters appreciate reform, provided this is carried out early enough for the results to start manifesting themselves. For the Modi government, this means within the first two years of its term. Getting the Land and GST Bills passed through Parliament would have done more to encourage foreign and domestic investment than media spectaculars such as meetings between businesspersons and the Council of Ministers. It is not so much they, but the government which needs to take "risks" by implementing innovative policies rather than shelving reforms till "the time is ripe". After all, every month's delay makes the time for success in implementing reform less propitious and therefore less likely. His critics pin the blame for such every misstep on the Prime Minister, when the fact is that there is no way that a mind as tuned to the 21st century as Narendra Modi's could have initiated such ideas as a meat ban during the festival of a single community that vies with the Parsis in their smallness of size and the contrasting — and spectacular — scale of their success in business and the professions. Rather than help the Jains, such unacceptable intrusions into the personal choices of citizens of what gets passed off as a democracy will make several in other communities angry with the Jains, a community that overall cannot be held responsible for the meat ban. Temperance and vegetarianism are indeed laudable, but need to originate in the free will of individual citizens rather than steamrollered through administrative fiat. By the BJP resorting to such medieval measures, even the Shiv Sena seems in contrast more modern and more 21st century than its larger ally, several of whose state governments have followed Maharashtra in its mistake, but which hopefully the courts will speedily rectify.
When the attention of government — and not in a hypothetical second term, but now — at both the national and regional levels needs to be on job creation so as to prevent more of the sort of agitation that Gujarat has been witnessing, seeking to change the lifestyle choices of citizens through administrative fiat or alterations in the law rather than through persuasion in the manner of the immensely popular "Mann ki Baat" broadcasts of the PM, this is an avoidable diversion.
To ensure an Indian Microsoft or Google, what is needed is to promote a culture of freedom and innovation across India. This may not be to the liking of those who seek a return to the (public) mores of Queen Victoria, or to those few who have benefited immensely and unfairly from Maximum Government, but is the only way out if the country is to avoid the chaos that discontent brings to the street. The PM needs to step forward and ensure that the BJP and its governments function in the manner he wants, which is that suited to the 21st century. The numerous Hardik Patels who are in the pipeline will not give much more time to his government to deliver on jobs, jobs, jobs before they hit the streets across the country.

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