Pro-corporate or anti-poor?

It is a year since the new government at the Centre took office and one needs to take a realistic and objective look at what it has done or has been attempting to do over the last one year. A good place to begin with will be the avowed intent of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the manifesto of the BJP.
 
While his style and manner of functioning can be criticised to be less inclusive and very centralised, this could also be a virtue, especially when one is trying to negotiate the complex power dynamics of Delhi.

Reining in the Indian bureaucracy used to years of inefficiency and incompetence does need a demanding taskmaster but there is also the danger of his over dependence on a few selected bureaucrats whose only claim to fame is unquestioned loyalty rather than any visionary ability or executive capacity.  

Limiting the focus to a few select programmes initiated in the last one year indicates that it is a mixed bag of achievements. While the Jan Dhan Yojana for financial inclusion is a welcome step, one finds that more than 60 per cent of the claimed 150 million bank accounts opened, remain without a single transaction reported.

When one goes beyond the hype and photo-ops that Swacch Bharat Abhiyan has created, one recognises that what India needs is not the PM leading the campaign with a broom but the ordinary citizen undergoing a mindset change.

If one were to measure the sociological transformation that is critical to the success of this programme, India has a long way to go. But one cannot fault the government for this and ordinary citizens have to take the responsibility for this state of affairs. 

To make the ‘Make in India’  happen, one needs to understand that  one year is too short to effect a change in the prevailing eco-system. Beyond changing rules, regulations and policies governing the industrial climate, one needs the skilled labour force required. And this can happen only when education and skill base of the millions of Indians are in place.
This is a long drawn process spread over at least two decades and the action of the government in cutting the budget of primary and higher education does not help. While skill development programmes have been initiated, the nation still does not have a single source where a detailed inventory of skills required vs those available is present. 

The NITI Aayog (former Planning Commission) was started with a lot of fanfare but one is unsure of what this body will end up doing. Will it remain a policy think tank or be a nodal agency to ensure cooperative federalism is still uncertain. The fact that this body is not fully populated with competent members from different sectors reflects its inadequacy. 

Cooperative federalism is a good indicator of a maturing democracy and one has to appreciate the government for the bold move of transferring 42 per cent of the revenues to the states and allowing them to spend on programmes that really matter for them.
What is difficult to fathom is that the Centre, as a consequence of this decision, has cut its budgetary allocations to critical sectors like health, education, child welfare, rural development and panchayat raj while expecting fiscally indisciplined states to do the spending prudently. 

Operational efficiency
While the operational efficiency in excess of 100 per cent in both the Houses of Parliament is impressive, the hurried manner in which legislations on land acquisition and GST were brought in and the manner in which ordinances were promulgated are matters of concern.  Conflicting signals are also being sent out to the NGO sector. 

The government has surely done a remarkable job in the coal and spectrum auction and in curbing corruption at high places, but the attention given to institutions like the Central Vigilance Commission, the Central Information Commission and other bodies like the DRDO, the IITs, NCERT etc leaves a lot of room for doubt over the government’s intent. 

The enhanced visibility for India created by the many foreign visits of the prime minister is a positive step in ensuring that the country secures its rightful place in the comity of nations. But when one goes deeper than the media hype, one understands that we are yet to formulate a clear foreign policy or articulate what its foreign interests will be and how they will be safeguarded in a rapidly changing global order.

Performance is much more than the kilometres of road built per day, the ease of business index, or the number of tourists who visit India. It is also about facilitating the creation of human and social capital the country needs and the economic consequences that ensue. And what matters is to see whether the intent of policy making, the legislations contemplated and the initiation of the several programmes over the last one year are truly reflective of the spirit of the Indian Constitution. 

What the overall report card indicates is that the government is surely moving, but whether this movement is pro-corporate or anti-poor, only the next 2-3 years can show. And the Indian electorate, which has always shown itself to be both responsive and responsible, will be unforgiving if it believes that the performance of the prime minister and his government is against their interests. 

(The writer, a development activist and public policy advocate, is founder, Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement, Mysuru)

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