Monday, June 30, 2014
Modi’s Success Lies in Not Falling into Trap of Those Who Never Voted for Him
Sunday, June 22, 2014
Dismantling Plan Panel Will Define Ideological Contours of Mission Modi
What is common between the Family Planning Department and Planning Commission? Both are white elephants. Both have let the nation down for the last six decades. Family Planning (now rechristened Family Welfare) has failed to stop deliveries. Planning Commission has failed to deliver. Because of these infamous institutions, India has suffered extensively. PM Narendra Modi seems to have decided to junk the commission in its current form. It had become a parallel power centre under former PM Manmohan Singh and his Sancho Panza, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who dictated and decided the direction of India’s growth and development. Aided by foreign-educated advisers, Ahluwalia, a free-market promoter by conviction, used the commission to impose the US model of economics on the country. For the past 10 years, the commission has made the poor poorer and the rich richer and created wide disparities between various regions of the country. According to many former UPA ministers, as special invitee to all the Cabinet meetings and other Empowered Group of Ministers, Ahluwalia decided the fate of many projects and even the allocation of funds to the states. Heated arguments would often break out between him and Cabinet ministers on various issues and policies. Finally, he would have his way, supported by the PM.
Set up in 1950, the commission was expected to ensure “the operation of the economic system doesn’t result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment”. No doubt, it was meant to promote public sector and ensure equitable distribution of national resources so that India’s poor would rise above the poverty level. The home page of the commission declares: “Planning Commission was set up by a Resolution of the Government of India in March 1950 in pursuance of declared objectives of the Government to promote a rapid rise in the standard of living of the people by efficient exploitation of the resources of the country, increasing production and offering opportunities to all for employment in the service of the community. The Planning Commission was charged with the responsibility of making assessment of all resources of the country, augmenting deficient resources, formulating plans for the most effective and balanced utilisation of resources and determining priorities.” The PM has always been its Chairman since Independence.
But over 120 members, including prominent economists who have served the commission since its inception, disregarded the mandate they were given. After Nehru’s death, it became the dumping ground for either unwanted civil servants or employment pastures for the old boy network and establishment stooges. For the first time, an adviser in the commission even asked for a royalty on a PPP document he authored for the commission. Even after 12 Five-Year Plans, over one-fourth of India lives below the poverty line at Rs 32 per day (as defined by Ahluwalia); over 60 per cent are homeless; 70 per cent of households are denied potable water; 65 per cent are without electricity and about 30 per cent don’t have access to primary education. The commission has been accused of packing its establishment with people who were paid to mine data, which would eventually find its way to mighty multinationals and semi-commercial institutions to help them plan their India business.
During the past decade, the commission has spent more time clearing projects like airports, highways and privatisation of natural resources, and less on poverty elimination and basic healthcare. With a core team of 20 that includes ministers and seven full-time members, the commission is assisted by over 60 advisers who have hardly ever served in small towns or villages. Most members have been associated with the corporate sector or academic institutions. During the last decade, the commission involved many pro-Congress NGOs to influence the policy framework in such a way that only their favourite projects got priority.
It’s not only the structure or composition of the commission that necessitates its abolition in the Modi Model of Governance, in which speed and not stupor gets priority. The commission has been a roadblock when it came to quick dispersal of funds to various ministries and states. Modi doesn’t want a multi-window system. The commission symbolises a regulated and controlled development process, driven by skewed priorities. The new PM is pushing for a monitored roadmap for development. For 60 years, the commission took various ideological turns, from Socialist, to a mixed economy and finally towards free market. Of late, it was known as the most powerful institution where crony capitalism flourished uninterrupted. Nehru established it keeping a defined mission in mind. But the commission has lost its political and economic relevance.
The commission was a source of nepotism in the government. Manmohan Singh appointed over 30 commissions, missions and panels to advise him on issues varying from potatoes to politics. He adopted the policy of show-me-the face and I-will-find-the-job. Missions on literacy, water, sanitation, skill development and knowledge were set up only to create a parallel system to the ministries. At one point of time, there were more heads of various commissions holding Cabinet rank than the actual number of Cabinet ministers in UPA. Curiously, a large number of them are drawn from various business and academic bodies. Some are just junior-level functionaries of business forums such as CII, FICCI and Assocham, whose primary job seems to be networking with officials and collecting important data for their own benefit.
Modi needs to order social audit of these institutions to discover whether they actually delivered on their mandate. According to finance ministry sources, over Rs 500 crore is spent every year just on salaries and establishment costs of such bodies. If Modi has to give a concrete shape to his mantra of Minimum Government, Maximum Governance, he has to strike at the culture of cronyism and purge the establishment of sycophants. Dismantling the commission will define the ideological contours of Mission Modi.
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Sunday, June 15, 2014
Time to Adopt Modi Model of Walk the Talk with Pak, Without Bending
All’s well that ends well, goes the proverb. The inverse is also true. With each new government’s debut, Indian diplomacy’s flirtation with Pakistan always begins well but ends up in bloody and bitter encounters after a few rounds of flying kisses and gregarious handshakes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his diplomatic innings spectacularly by inviting his counterpart Nawaz Sharif for his swearing-in ceremony on May 26. The Pakistan delegation was not only given disproportionate media space and diplomatic attention, but the effort was also bruited about as India’s sincere desire to normalise relations with a perennially hostile neighbour. Modi was determined to erase the impression of a hawkish Right wing leader who is out to rewrite Indian boundaries with brute force. His election campaign speeches were projected as a mission to bring pugnacious Pakistan to its knees. But as PM, Modi avoided doing anything of that sort. He chose dialogue and reconciliation instead of confrontation and disengagement.
Recent border encounters, however, betray the trust the Modi establishment has placed in Pakistani political leadership. Soon after Sharif’s return home, Pakistani troops engaged in their usual incursions, attacking innocent jawans and civilians. During the last four-six weeks, seven such incidents have taken place, killing nine security personnel. Since Nehruvian fellow travellers with vested interests in keeping the Indo-Pak issue on the boil control Indian diplomacy, they habitually try to insulate any new leadership against contrarian opinion. These professional peaceniks will try persuading the new Prime Minister to see an opportunity in sari and shawl diplomacy, thereby giving Pakistan’s democratically elected government another chance at duplicity. Modi is yet to dismantle the dialogue-for-peace lobby, which dominates South Block and the think-tanks floated and financed by it. Millions of taxpayers’ money is spent on foreign junkets for the faux-peace-vaudeville performers to visit salubrious cities for secret parleys and Michelin menus, which have yielded only more gore and blood on our borders. Most of them are even more devious than the NGOs that promote their agenda at the cost of national interest. Even the Track Two, Three and the umpteen number of channels are now coming together to sabotage any possible attempt by the PM to institute a credible nationalist mechanism to deal with Pakistan and also the US. They were spectacularly successful during the NDA regime led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The composition of these unofficial institutions holding semi-official confabulations with invisible interlocutors hasn’t changed in the past 20 years. Prime Ministers and foreign ministers have changed, but the pacifist pundits stay on, loaded with perks and pelf. They have made more foreign trips than India’s Foreign Secretaries or even the foreign ministers. A cursory look at their reports, presentations, and newspaper articles reads like the manifestos of political parties; immutable except for the first page and the cover. They conveniently ignore the harsh reality that India’s every goodwill gesture is reciprocated with either war or a terror attack. Instead of recording Pakistan’s history of betrayal, our self-appointed global peace ambassadors counsel every Prime Minister to aim for a global role by adopting soft postures. None of their reports refer to the wars fought in 1965, 1971, Kargil in 1999, the 2001 Parliament attack, and the 26/11 Mumbai massacre. They don’t see anything wrong in the inhuman killings of over 80, 000 Indian civilians and uniformed forces in Jammu and Kashmir since 1990. They see the mass exodus of Kashmiri pundits from Jammu and Kashmir as just an accidental result of peccant administration by a hawkish governor.
Though Modi has a mind of his own and can hardly be influenced by extraneous factors, it is difficult for him to forget the ignobility he faced from some foreign nations during the past 12 years. He was shunned by the Western powers, and denied visas to address meetings in America and London. Handling sensitive international relationships is Modi’s big challenge. Like his many other colleagues, Modi may not be seeking an endorsement from the American establishment or from its desi megaphones. But they have already unleashed their well-oiled machinery to influence people holding key positions in the government. Ambassadors and high commissioners of the countries, which had declared Modi a social pariah, are already hosting dinner conclaves for newly appointed ministers and new articulate MPs. They are calling on ministers and opinion-makers. Their only objective is to ensure that the Modi government doesn’t take a hard stand against Pakistan, the West’s most dependable ally and a big market for their defence industry.
But Modi is aware of his campaign promises to the people of India. His success in taming Pakistan would depend on his ability to destroy the terror camps across the border, either with cooperation from the Pakistan forces or by the Indian Army. Modi has been advised that glamorous handshakes with a leader who doesn’t have the authority to deliver on a single promise he makes to India are futile. Pakistan is controlled by four different fief-lords, each working within boundaries defined by them. If Sharif enjoys authority over civil administration, the ISI governs and nurtures Pakistan’s terror network over which the Prime Minister has no control. The Pakistani Army chief decides the contours of foreign policy. The delay in Sharif accepting Modi’s invitation was primarily because of the ISI and Pakistan Army’s delayed clearance. Top of the heinous heap is the Taliban, which is allowed to operate freely from various Pakistani cities. Unless the Taliban facilitates a favourable climate for a dialogue with India—or with Pakistan’s other neighbours—Sharif cannot leave his country or send officials to break bread with other diplomats.
Modi’s uniqueness lies in his out-of-the box thinking. On Pakistan, too, he should reject the choreographed summit meetings with Sharif and his silver-tongued Savile Row diplomats. Manmohan Singh left the office as a failure and India’s weakest Prime Minister, because he was advised to chase the Nobel Peace Prize by dancing with Pakistan. Modi has got a decisive mandate to deliver his promises through his performance on the Pakistan front. The time has come to junk the Nehruvian diplomatic model of yadda-yadda with Pakistan, and adopt the Modi model of walk the talk—that too, briskly and without bending.
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Sunday, June 8, 2014
The PM Will Have to Turn a Network of File-pushers Into Obedient Pygmies
“Bureaucracy is the art of making the possible impossible” goes the adage. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided to disprove the apothegm by not ringing out the old and ringing in the new, but by killing the former with inexplicable kindness. He is keeping the arrows in his quiver for use later. He has refrained from carrying out a massive purge of senior civil servants, and instead called them over for tea. He made them feel not only wanted but also useful for executing his mission. If the number of letters and messages emanating from the PMO and Cabinet Secretariat is any indication, it is evident that the new PM is determined to convert impossible into a rare possibility, that is making the bureaucracy work. The Cabinet Secretary is now advising various ministries on how to keep offices clean, and respond to public grievances within a week. According to PMO sources, Modi expects babus to not only spend more time in the office but also follow a rigid deadline regimen in taking decisions and implementing them. He considers babus as the wheels of government and the ministers only as riders. The Cabinet Secretary, who occupies the most modest and smallest room compared to other Secretaries, has become the watchdog of all other babus. Modi subscribes to the belief that the bureaucracy let India down by creating more paperwork and perks for themselves rather than generating a favourable environment for growth and development. The articulate and powerfully connected officers have always mocked the political leadership. For the past decade, they have been gleefully claiming that the “bureaucracy is a giant mechanism operated by pygmies”.
Rarely has any PM pierced India’s steel frame. But Modi isn’t a run-of-the-mill leader. He is the second PM after Rajiv Gandhi to interact directly with the 80 Secretaries sans their ministers. Ignoring the past practice of giving the election manifesto to babus for implementation, he advised them to submit their own plans of action and clarify the problems in taking decisions. While other PMs had decided to jettison politically inconvenient civil servants, Modi opted for stability in administration. Since he needs only 100 out of the 7,000 officers belonging to various All India Services to push his calendar, the PM has taken a calculated risk by retaining most of the existing ones. Defying speculation and rejecting sycophantic lobbying by colleagues and extraneous pressures, Modi has refrained from importing Ahmedabad babudom to New Delhi. He is dismantling the ‘me and my type’ conglomeration who preferred to discuss important policy formulations and Cabinet notes in the drawing rooms of Lutyen’s Delhi. For the past decade, policies were formulated in boardrooms before they were circulated among the Cabinet ministers. Modi is striking at the very culture and practice of cultural and social coalition, and the nexus between the golf club walkers and North and South Block occupants.
Contrary to conventional practice, Modi has chosen to give yet another six-month extension to the current Cab-Sec Ajit Kumar Seth, a 1974-batch officer from Uttar Pradesh, which has given Modi 73 out of 80 Lok Sabha seats. It is Seth’s second extension; when and if he retires in December 2014, he would become the fourth Cabinet Secretary since 1950 to complete four years in office. As the 29th Cab-Sec, Seth is conspicuous by his invisibility. Yet Modi discovered in Seth the virtues which perhaps influenced Manmohan Singh to catapult him as India’s Superbabu. But Modi sprang a surprise by picking Nripendra Mishra as his principal secretary. Mishra, again, is from UP and is known for his integrity and impliability. Modi and Mishra are perhaps made for each other. Mishra was chosen from a panel of four officers after passing a written test. His other qualification is that the UPA government ignored him for the post of Cabinet Secretary because of his opposition to the telecom policy, which led to the 2G scam. Modi’s selection of Ajit Doval as the National Security Advisor reflects the fact that the PM is not looking for civil servants who are jacks of all trades but masters of none. Doval is a daredevil spymaster who has risked his life innumerable times, decimating terrorists on their own turf.
Modi’s emphasis on bureaucracy stems from his experience in Gujarat, where disciplined, efficient and low-profile babus faithfully implemented the government’s agenda. NaMo chose competent, clean ministers, but also made sure that they were given babus who would serve as his eyes and ears. Modi may be an old hand in running a small state government, but he has little experience in handling a complex multi-dimensional and multi-federal governance system in which each minister is a state by himself. The Union Government has so far been run on the principle of collective responsibility, by which the entire Cabinet was responsible for the success or failure of its policies. Now Modi is willing to break the matrix and make himself accountable for both failure and success. It is perhaps keeping in line with his thinking that while allocating various departments to Cabinet ministers, an important insertion was made in the Presidential communiqué—other than holding charge of various departments, the PM would also handle key policy issues. NaMo obviously feels that by giving him the mandate, people expect him to use the tools of governance for delivery. Instead of dismantling the institutional mechanism, he has chosen a way that gives him complete power to achieve his objectives. During the past two weeks, Modi has quietly introduced a Presidential form of governance, which depends heavily on bureaucracy instead of political hierarchy. Modi hasn’t yet revealed the contours of the structure he would like to put in place. But his actions signal the arrival of a committed civil service in which a premium will be placed on loyalty to the ideology of an individual. Modi’s test lies in taking over the role of a giant who can turn a gargantuan network of file-pushers into obedient firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla
Sunday, June 1, 2014
Irani's Real Test Lies in Proving Best Educated Are Those With Knowledge, Not Degrees
If formal education, pedigree and degree are the panacea for the ills that plague Indian education, then India would be a global education powerhouse. Of the 29 Union ministers—including three former Prime Ministers—who presided over our mildewed, divisive education system since 1952, eight had doctoral degrees. Though the rest came from cultured families, neither had they studied abroad nor at any of India’s best-known, expensive educational edifices. Even after 67 years of Independence, a little less than half the population is not literate enough to possess writing skills. Does it mean that our elitist educationists conspired to let Indian educational establishments remain exclusive clubs for the rich and allowed basic education to suffer? India produces more graduates annually than more than half the world put together. Its education system breeds unemployment, criminality and caste and class conflicts. Hence, it is evident that even illustrious academic doyens couldn’t change the system. The furore over the qualifications of Smriti Zubin Irani, 38, who’s not only India’s youngest and least-educated HRD minister ever but also the first woman to hold the post, has much to do with the social disruption her appointment has caused among elitist academia and Congress’ imported ideologues, generating questions that confound them.
How can over 500 Vice-Chancellors of various universities, directors of IIMs and heads of other academic institutions hold a dialogue with a minister who hasn’t ever been to college? How will she provide affordable and quality education to over 220 million schoolgoing children and 11.7 million college students? Will she be able to tame the avaricious education mafia, which opens colleges and schools with the sangfroid of multinationals launching fastfood chains? Her antagonists fail to appreciate PM Narendra Modi’s Disruptionist Model of Governance. Like him, Irani, too, comes from a lower middle class family, which could ill afford a formal education for her. But she became a household name as a conventional Indian bahurani (daughter-in-law) on television, promoting Indian culture and values and not by doing item numbers. Her journey from a small screen diva to India’s HRD minister proves that practical education is also a route to success. It is because of her experience that she was chosen to draw a roadmap that would connect Indian education with the needs of the masses. Who else but Irani can address the agony of those ridiculed for lacking a college degree—the only recognised symbol of literacy?
Irani represents Modi’s mission of upending the Indian education system. Her agenda is clear. She has rightly asked to be judged by her work as a minister and not by her paper qualifications. She will have to deal with powerful CMs and ideology-driven NGOs. According to BJP insiders, those who were expecting better positions for themselves targeted her from within. Outsiders have chosen to put her on the defensive because they fear she would depoliticise the academic world. Since she doesn’t carry an ideological tag of either secularism or liberalism, she is expected to strike at the fault line of learning systems. Her objective is to completely Indianise the educational apparatus, which puts a premium on money-making and not all-round development. Barring Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, who ran the ministry for six years during NDA regime, all others were determined to take education either to the extreme left or left of centre. For example, Dr Nurul Hassan and Arjun Singh, who controlled the ministry for over 13 years, ensured that the primary and higher education syllabi were filled with either Nehruvian paeans or Leftist gobbledygook. All aspects of ancient Indian culture and nationalism were dismembered. All universities were filled with Leftist intellectuals. Those with contrarian views were hounded and deprived of jobs they deserved. Since Irani’s mandate is to restore ideological balance in all academic institutions, her opponents are leaving nothing to chance to un-nerve and cripple her before she drops those occupying top jobs, thanks to their connections to the previous Leftablishment. They dread her resolve to peel off the false, fake veneers of liberalism and pseudo-secularism from India’s temples of learning.
During the past 66 years, singing the National Anthem in schools has been a matter of faith or discretion. Various parties have placed more emphasis on expounding about their political icons in school rather than teaching children how to become responsible citizens. India’s institutions of instruction lack proper roofs and teachers. Every fifth child goes to a school that doesn’t have drinking water facilities. Even after six decades, Indian children haven’t been taught a language which can help them communicate with children in other parts of India. Over 33,000 degree colleges turn out graduates, most of whom end up joining the unskilled labour market or receive MGNREGS dole.
Irani’s hands are also tied since education is a state subject. But she has the power to set the benchmark for higher and school education because institutions like UGC and CBSE regulate the quality of learning in the country. Irani will not be judged by how many new schools or colleges she opens. She will be under pressure from market forces to open up the education sector for private investment without ensuring connectivity with employment generation. For the first time, we have a Prime Minister and an education minister who are not products of uber educational institutions. It is challenge for them to Modify the system so that their personal education-through-struggle model becomes an integral part of India’s school and college curriculum. After all, Irani has to prove that the best educated are those who successfully acquire excellent and effective forms of knowledge rather than those who acquire expensive degrees from glamorous institutions based in India or abroad.
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