Saturday 4 April 2020

Team Modi Must Follow PM's Example for India's Success (Sunday Guardian)

Country is looking towards steps to ensure that the blockages caused by administrative processes get cleared away.
Immediately after Prime Minister Narendra Modi completed his video message to 1.29 billion fellow citizens on the morning of 3 April, there was the expected overflow of negative comments via social media. The fact is that such a message was crucial to ensure mass future compliance as the nation neared the halfway mark of the three-week lockdown. This has overall been adhered to by the citizenry. Not that the personal abuse of critics of the PM was a surprise. This was, after all, a Prime Minister who did not pontify on re-ordering the world in the imperious manner of Jawaharlal Nehru, but talked instead of the importance of building a toilet for each household, something that was not a priority for either the architect of the First Amendment to the Constitution of India or to his successors. Unlike the Maino family of Orbassano, which since the 1980s has joined the elite of Italy rather than, as previously, eking out a humble living, the Modi family of Vadnagar was, and remains, in straitened circumstances. The Rs 25,000 that was contributed to the Prime Minister’s Covid fund by his mother represented a goodly chunk of her life savings. But this is the exception. In common with the Mainos, there are innumerable political families dotted across India whose fortunes skyrocketed after one of their number ascended to a high position. In common with the family of Mahatma Gandhi, Modi’s family has refused to take advantage of the fact that they come from the same family as their illustrious relative. Not for them the example of Morarji Desai, who would call up businesspersons and sternly warn them not to do anything for Kanti “just because he is my son”. Needless to say, most of those called in this manner by Morarji took the hint and saw in Kanti Desai qualities that assured substantial recompense to him. Of course, this was not because his father was then the Union Finance Minister, among whose disastrous decisions had been a Gold Control Order, which wiped out more than a million “unorganised” jobs—held by those who did not dress in suits or walk around in boots—at the stroke of a pen. It must be said to the credit of Jawaharlal Nehru that neither he nor his only child profited from his 17 years at the apex of the machinery of governance in the country. It was only some years after Rajiv Gandhi married Sonia Maino that his family (and hers) began to climb up the economic ladder, a change in fortunes that began during the period when Indira Gandhi was occupying the South Block office once used by her father. In 1989, Rajiv expected the Congress Party to return to power with a reduced majority. After all, every Congress candidate during that election had been given a generous quota of vehicles, campaign materials and money. The Janata Dal had very little of such advantages in comparison. However, as had earlier been demonstrated in 1977, even a cash flood does not work in a situation where voters believe that their government has let them down even more than has long been usual in a country that policymakers have long kept from fulfilling its potential. The Chinese speak of the Mandate of Heaven, and say that when this is withdrawn, a ruler falls. Modi’s emergence to national leadership has prevented such a situation in India. If the countless millions of unemployed and underemployed youth in India are not rampaging on the streets the way they have been in some other countries, it is because they still have hope that Prime Minister Modi will fulfil his promise of “Achhe Din”. This is something that Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and others in the Council of Ministers need to keep in mind as they work on the many more tranches of assistance that are needed to ensure that the economy recover from the Covid shock within the year. Thus far, what has been served does not qualify even as a first course, but only as an aperitif.

Given the population and complexity of India, the three-week lockdown instituted by the Prime Minister has worked exceptionally well, barring incidents such as the Nizamuddin fiasco, which follows in the footsteps of the capital’s anti-CAA riots as a failure of an impprtant part of the administrative machinery. Who was responsible for the official turning of a blind eye to a gathering of radical preachers in the heart of the Lutyens Zone that included more than 2,000 foreigners who ought never to have been given visas to enter India? Earlier, a similar mistake had been made, when several unrepentant financial backers of the Khalistan movement were allowed to come to India and try and poison Punjab once again, a task in which they failed, thanks to the good sense and patriotism of the Sikh community. Given the underperformance and errors made by some who hold key positions in the Modi dispensation, it is clear that the only reason why the 21-day all-India lockdown has worked so well is because of the trust that people still have in the Prime Minister. His video address on April 3 will help ensure future obedience to the lockdown. Staying at home is not normal behaviour, which is why an individual with the moral authority of Narendra Modi needed to remind the people why this was essential. The Prime Minister’s entire team needs to understand the imperative of handling their responsibilities in the manner expected by the PM. The goodwill that Modi has brought to his ministerial and higher administrative team needs to be matched by actions by each of them as would assist the people in getting through the additional pain that is being endured by hundreds of millions as a consequence of the measures being followed by them because of their faith in the Prime Minister. The country is looking towards steps to ensure that the blockages caused by administrative processes long in need of replacement get cleared away. Had every agency functioned with the efficiency expected of them by both the people as well as the Prime Minister, serious lapses such as preventing the panic movement of casual labourers at Anand Vihar in Delhi or the inability of the system to have acted in time to prevent the Nizamuddin get-together from being a Covid multiplier would  have been avoided. Both were problems hiding in plain sight, and both were ignored until it was too late to prevent substantial damage, especially the “Covid Conference”.

Narendra Modi is a veritable Goodwill Bank that has been stocked with the trust of the people and the respect of the world. It is this stock that has enabled his government to ensure that India continues to prove wrong the many across the globe who routinely mock its leadership and its people. Each individual who has been entrusted with a key responsibility by PM Modi needs to work in a manner that adds to public goodwill for the government rather than subtracts from it. The history of past regimes shows how quickly the mistakes of a few can affect the overall performance and standing of a government. Hence the need for every link in the ministerial and higher administrative chain chosen by the Prime Minister to perform in the manner expected of Team Modi by both him as well as the people of India.

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