Saturday 22 August 2020

Modi 2.0 moving towards 21st century methods and mindset ( Sunday Guardian)


Trusting civil society rather than only civil service, and devolving of powers rather than concentrating them are needed for unleashing the potential of the economy.

Throughout the closing months of 2015 going into most of the next year, suggestions were made from the Republican side that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meet Donald J. Trump during one of the former’s visits to the US. Such a meeting never took place, and in not meeting the Republican nominee while he was on the campaign trail, Abe was not alone. Japan regards the alliance with the US as the cornerstone of its foreign and security policy, and yet never once did Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meet Trump. That is until 8 November 2016, when soon afterwards he rushed to New York to personally congratulate the billionaire who had bested Hillary Clinton to the shock of chancelleries across the world. During the 2016 elections, there was a small group of enthusiasts from the Indian-American community who worked tirelessly for the victory of the Republican nominee, and their number expanded substantially after Trump became President. During the campaign this year, this group is keeping up a barrage of attacks on Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to the delight of the China and Pakistan embassies. Should the Democrats win on 3 November 2020, the many abusive comments made by more than a few India-loving Trump backers on Biden and Harris would have done no favours for the world’s most populous democracy, just as in 2016 those who ignored Trump and placed all their bets on Hillary Clinton did a disservice to India. Fortunately, Prime Minister Narendra Modi soon became best friends with Donald Trump, just as he had been with Barack Obama. Despite—or perhaps because of—the fact that he had not previously served in the Central government before taking charge as Prime Minister on 26 May 2014, Modi established close relationships with several world leaders, including Vladimir Putin in Russia, Shinzo Abe in Japan and David Cameron in the UK. After Cameron unwisely resigned, Teresa May took over as PM, and her lack of warmth towards India affected relations with the third-largest English-speaking country in the world in terms of the number of those speaking the international link language, after the US and India.

In India, although the southern and northeastern states are seen as the redoubt of the international link language, the reality is that it is the Hindi-speaking states where the drive to learn English is strongest. Among those fluent in the language are Prime Minister Modi himself and BJP president J.P. Nadda. Although news reports speak of the New Education Policy as being toxic to English, the reality is different. The importance of that language not just in education but in opening up opportunities in both India as well as in many parts of the world has been recognised in the NEP, which may have its setbacks, but is overall a considerable improvement over the present educational doctrines. Similar is the case with the agricultural marketing reforms brought into effect in Modi 2.0, which overall gives promise of not just incremental but rapid reform. Should a telecom policy designed to enhance internet coverage and speeds be added on to a program of giving access to that medium to those thus far excluded, the country would accelerate its transformation into a more modern economy where much of the population is empowered by new technologies that unlock stores of knowledge. China barred the most deadly competitors to local competitors in software and ensured through policy the growth of national champions that rivalled banned items such as Facebook, Google and Twitter. By blocking Chinese apps and possibly other telecom products (including 5G and handsets), Modi 2.0 is creating the conditions for Indian champions to grow. These may not be those who are masters of profiting from the intersection of politics, officialdom and business, but others who rely not on contacts but on innovation. It is noteworthy that some of the largest enterprises in India have prospered not through growing the domestic production base but in importing foreign equipment and supplies, principally from China. Prime Minister Modi has by both word and deed conveyed to such captains of industry that they need to stop using money made or borrowed from India to create jobs and wealth for foreign countries, except in the rare cases where such external sources of supply are impossible to dispense with. The ease of imports in place of local materials and manufactures has created a wasteland within India for much of small and medium industry, and this needs to get reversed so that the fast-multiplying youth of India have jobs that give them the dignity of an adequate income. Small and medium industry is the foundation on which large industry can grow, something that the USSR-focused Lutyens Zone planners forgot. Since 2011, after the abuse of the economy by UPA 1.0 and beyond, the animal spirits that are needed for boosting the rate of growth to double digits have been absent. Where it was the accelerator that needed to be pressed, Mint Road and North Block, by instinct, reached out for the brakes, and the impact of this on the economy has been substantial. Any rate of growth below 9% annually ought to be unacceptable to those in government who are dealing with policy, as this is the minimum needed to ensure social justice. If the middle class is shrinking rather than growing, and if incomes are getting more rather than less unequal, even relatively small doles of food and cash to the very poor cannot be maintained for very long. Unlocking the potential of India is impossible unless the propensity of corrupt officials to block genuine businesspersons in favour of cronies bloated by favours gets blocked. Such a process needs to accelerate during Modi 2.0.

The Prime Minister has been clear that he would like to see systems and processes in India enter the 21st century rather than remain tethered to the 19th and the 20th, as much of the governance mechanism presently is. Trusting civil society rather than only the civil service, and devolving of powers rather than concentrating them are needed for unleashing the potential of the economy. Doing such will among other things ensure that banks in India lend to potentially successful businesses rather than store in the RBI moneys given to them during Modi 1.0. Those who have long had faith in Narendra Modi are looking forward to the unbinding of procedures in several fields, in the manner that has been witnessed in some, such as agricultural marketing and education.

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