By Indroneel Das
In 2014, India elected a Prime Minister who went on to become one of the most iconic figures in the history of this great nation. Mr Narendra Modi is not one who can be ignored by the world, nor will he be forgotten. There are two important and time-tested methods to perpetuate oneís place in the history books.
First, it is important to be a harbinger of change. And second, one must advertise oneís successes, while quickly forgetting and learning from your failures.
PM Modi has been a busy man, trying to push one reform after another ever since he took office. The land reforms, the demonetisation move to cripple black money, the improvement in the ease of doing business, the ground-breaking GST, all-time high infrastructure spending, social security measures, and unprecedented defence initiatives, have all seen Mr. Modi rise to the top of popularity charts and carve out his own place as a leader and a visionary. But if we try to classify all the reforms he has managed to push till date, they can be classified into- administrative, legislative and economic reforms.
Administrative reforms include all positive measures undertaken to improve the governance of people, the basic tenet on which a democracy elects its government. Social security schemes, agricultural and land reforms, and spending on public infrastructure are examples that fall into this category.
Legislative reforms are improvisations in the legal framework that push the law & order standards and aim to trample the grey and the black economy. This was the basic intent behind demonetisation and the GST. Sometimes, legal reforms are pre-requisites for administrative changes to be applied effectively.
Economic reforms refer to changes made in order to strengthen the larger macro economic pillars of the nation. Disinvestment in PSUs, mergers of PSBs and allowing more foreign investment are all examples of positive economic interventions.
Why we may not see more reforms till 2019
There is a common pattern to all the major reforms that we have seen in the Modi 1.0 regime. They were all structural changes, that managed to address a problem by initiating grassroot level changes. As much as we would like to see the change play out in front of our eyes, such reforms cannot be churned out at the pace at which we have seen them coming. The reason for this is that these are disruptive changes. Disruptive changes may have the best of intentions and in the long-term, achieve positive network effects that spill over on the entire nation and economy, but they need a lot of preparation, churning, and most importantly, they are unsettling. No major reform enacted so far by Mr. Modi could have seen a smooth progression and implementation. They have been subjected to debates, needed months (if not years) of political capital, commitment and activism, and all this with absolutely no guarantee of success.
Also, for most of these major reforms, such as the GST, new and increased infrastructure project spending, land reforms etc., they had been in the pipeline much before Mr. Modi sat on the hot seat. This is evidence to the fact that these reforms canít be baked in a day. Also, once these reforms are taken to the market, they need constant monitoring, evaluation and improvisation. The eventual success of these reforms is dependent more on the degree of hawkishness of the incumbent government than the number of years spent refining it in the parliament. When Mr. Modi is subject to the judgement of the people again in 2019, he will want to be sure that he did enough in the post-implementation phase, in order for him to be able to take any credit for it.
Joining the dots
Letís cut to the most important part of any political agenda- elections and populism. There are two assumptions that can be made about the incumbent PM here- that either he is a true patriot and would really like to serve the nation for as long as he can, or he is just another politician trying to extend his stay at the top and his partyís reign as the single largest party in the country with almost no equal competitor. Either of these assumptions leads us to the same conclusion- that Mr. Modi will fight tooth and nail to retain the PMís office, come 2019. But in order to do this, he will have to get the second part of his journey right. This second part, like I mentioned before, is advertising your achievements and painting perceptions. Luckily for Mr. Modi, he has had more hits than misses. Save demonetisation, which still raises a lot of questions which can only be answered in the long run, almost everything else has worked out well for him and therefore, for India too.
Public memory is characterised by three things: Its short-lived nature, its recency bias, and its herd-like mannerisms. Mr. Modi is well positioned to leverage these biases and play the game to his advantage from here on. It would make all the sense in the world, to stop trying to push new reforms from here on, and focus on what has already been done.
Vision for the long run
This focus would, of course, be two dimensional. The first aspect will be monitoring and evaluation (leading to plugging of the loopholes), and this would allow him to operationalise the second dimension much more effectively- starting the 2019 campaign. The BJP and Mr. Modi have just one pain point right now- that they may be regressive in their interpretation of the true secular spirit of the democracy. There have been controversial and violent events, especially in Northern India, that point to a less than ideal scenario in a secular sense. This means that the Modi government will need to use all the prowess of its progressive and successful administrative, legislative, and economic reforms, and package it in a garment of relatable nationalism, in order to ensure that the common man definitely goes with the lotus on the EVM, in 2019. This is not a challenge for someone like Mr. Modi. All the rallies, painting India on the global map using international visits, ‘Mann Ki Baat’ broadcasts etc., are all basically product advertisements. This is not to pass a judgement on whether he will win comfortably in 2019 or not, or whether you should vote for him or not. This is just meant to say that from here on, we might see a populist Modi government overshadow a progressive Modi government.
Featured Image Source: Visual Hunt
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