Just a year ago, no one would have believed Narendra Modi would become Prime Minister. There were many hurdles and no one expected that the BJP would win this election so well. Many politicians bet that there would be a Hung-Parliament and both BJP and Congress would not find numbers to form a government and regional players would play the big role. A thing turned out differently .There was no room for manipulations and Narendra Modi became Prime Minister on May 26, 2014. Ambitious Naveen Patnaik and Jayalalitha went humbly to Modi and bowed. The neglected AAm Admi and middle classes have the highest expectations.
Narendra Modi compared himself to President Barack Obama of USA. But Modi must understand that Barack Obama will be viewed as one of the biggest failed Presidents of the USA. It is true that Barack Obama won two elections. Though the Congress government in Delhi won two elections, they were thrown out. Modi should remember that people are fed up with Obama’s excellent oratory as his performance is zero. Modi has to perform.
Narendra Modi wisely sensed that people will make a very quick judgment of him and that is why on May 26, he set a deadline of 100 days for performance. He knows he cannot wait for 5 years and then ask people to judge him. On May 30, 2014, Narendra Modi publicly announced 10 major goals for his government. He has set targets for his Ministers.
Nearly 2500 years ago, Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher said “Well begun is half done”. There are countless proverbs in India on the importance of an auspicious start. Narendra Modi has begun well and there is stunned surprise in Congress circles on Modi’s early good days. Naturally with success arrogance usually creeps in. But right now, within 10 days, we can review the actions of Modi and see whether there will be a trend…
a. The very first action of Narendra Modi on May 19, 2014, after the Rashtrapathi called him to form a government, was to invite all South Asian leaders for his swearing-in. This sent shock waves amongst his critics since they expected an aggressive foreign policy. The Minorities in India want good relations with Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Opposition proved wrong. Omar Abdullah, Chief Minister of Kashmir was the first to praise Modi. The first action of Modi was conciliatory and no one expected that. As Mark Twain, one of the world’s greatest writers said a 100 years ago, “Do the right thing and people will be astonished“.
b. Narendra Modi’s cabinet also shocked people. India got used to Jumbo cabinets and the last 5 governments had over 85 Ministers. Ministries had to be split to accommodate Ministers. Ally Parties used to demand the most commercial Ministries and Manmohan Singh, Deve Gowda and Inder Gujral meekly agreed. People like A. Raja and T.R. Baalu of DMK created corruption records. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh un-fortunately allowed corrupt Ministers into his government. But Modi started with a small cabinet. This sent signals to the country that he will not waste money. Allies like Shiv Sena wanted dozens of Ministers. The stern Narendra Modi just ignored them.
c. The first test for Narendra Modi’s resolve was the protests of Tamilnadu politicians against the invitation to Sri Lanka President Rajapakshe to attend the swearing-in. The usual drama was enacted by Vaiko (actually Telugu –origin Tamilian), who usually arranges a bus-load of protestors and the media. Everyone has understood that his protests were phony. Modi ignored the entire protests of Tamilnadu including Jayalalitha and won over Sri Lanka. Manmohan Singh never dared do such a thing. Modi signaled every regional politician that foreign relations will not be controlled by local politics. This is a major victory for India’s foreign policy. Mamta Banerjee also imitates the Tamilians and protests against steps to improve relations with Bangladesh. Now they know Modi will not tolerate blackmail.
d. Narendra Modi kept out many senior Ministers from Vajpayee’s cabinet, who were failures. Modi knew they did nothing in 6 years and that is why the Vajpayee government was booted out. If such ministers were great, then why did BJP lose the elections? Modi left out L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi and none objected. Modi took in Sushma Swaraj, after making her wait.
e. Narendra Modi also merged many ministries. Whether this will be good thing, time will tell. But he is not afraid to experiment. The last 20 years have failed India. There is massive un-employment and poverty and therefore we need new ideas. Barack Obama in a rare moment of wisdom said “If you do things the same way, the outcome will be the same”. You have to experiment and Modi is right. Modi also banned Ministers from choosing relatives for their staff. This is a good experiment.
f. Modi also gave some educated BJP MPs an opportunity. He created Independent Ministries of Commerce, Power, Petroleum, and Environment and gave them to newcomers and relatively young Ministers. This will be a test for them to perform and these younger Ministers have to perform. But he warned them that that they will be accountable.
g. Modi also ignored such states that did nothing for the BJP. Everyone expected some ministers from Telengana. But when Modi saw the results, he questioned what gain the BJP got from Telengana. Thus no one from Telengana or Kerala was made a Minister. Controversial people like Yeddyurappa of Karnataka were kept out.
h. Narendra Modi also acted very harshly on dynasties. There are a number of young MPs who got there only because of their family. Modi refused to take them as Ministers even though there was great pressure. Vasundra Raje, Chief Minister of Rajasthan gave names of two MPs. one was her son Dushyant Singh and other Sonaram Chowdhury who defeated Jaswant Singh. Raje wanted happiness by making her son a Minister and also revenge on Jaswant Singh. Modi coolly refused to heed her, even though Rajasthan gave 25 out of 25 MPs. Similarly, Modi has not yet taken Anurag Singh, the 3 term MP from Himachal who is the son of former Chief Minister Dhumal Singh. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh got his son elected as MP. There are many such examples and this has sent great signals to the country which is fed up with dynasties.
i. Modi also engaged with the bureaucracy. He openly said that officials can take independent decisions and if they were wrong, no harm will come to them. But he warned them that they must perform. They cannot warm their seats and sycophancy will be suspect. He set targets and now has given them 100 days to perform. Under Manmohan Singh, officials never did work and those who were corrupt, made money. Those who were honest and efficient were frightened since the Prime Minister never encouraged them to act efficiently.
j. Economy: Modi has realized that UPA Government was thrown out because the economy faltered and the fiscal deficit destroyed India. Modi knows that nearly two lakh crores of projects are held up in the Environment Ministry. Four months ago, Modi publicly criticized Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarjan that she was corrupt and called her corruption the “Jayanthi tax”. The next day Natarajan was dismissed by Manmohan Singh from the Ministry.
Modi has immediately ordered with within a 100 days the Environment ministry must show action or he will act. The infra-structure projects worth nearly two lakh crores are also going to be launched shortly. These prospects have encouraged the economy and the rupee value has raised to Rs. 59 a dollar.
When the Indian rupee goes up, imports become cheaper and oil and other imports costs come down. Subsidies automatically become less for government and prices will come down. . There is no doubt that within the first two weeks, Modi has buoyed up the economy.
Modi issued many directives and orders. But what is important is that there should be fast governance and action. There should be targets and rewards and punishment. 50 years ago, an outstanding British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan said: “A good Prime Minister must be a good butcher.” He meant a Prime Minister must be ruthless in dismissing useless Ministers. But the Jayalalitha way of dismissing Ministers within a day of being appointed is stupidity. Wise Prime Ministers will dismiss Ministers, but after warnings and then explaining why they are being sacked. Ministers should be transparently sacked.
It is possible that Modi will expand his cabinet, surround himself with sycophants, starts feeling he is God and become arrogant like all other leaders. That will start his downfall. There are many dangers ahead of Narendra Modi. But right now, since May 16th, 2014, he has done everything right and surprised both his enemies and friends.
But Barack Obama is not a good example for Modi to follow. Good speeches eventually bore people unless there is performance. The right amount of action and speeches will bring success. Too much of either will defeat Modi. There is a lot of time ahead. But well begun is half-done.