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Modi Governance: Quo Vadis?

The Modi government has been in power for nearly eight months now. Yet, there is no sign of an architecture or blueprint of Modi’s governance agenda


THE day of Christmas (December 25) was observed as Good Governance Day to celebrate the birthday of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. On this occasion, present Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated his commitment towards providing transparent, effective, accountable and good governance and exhorted the people to embark together on this mission. A question has risen as to whether Modi’s ‘governance agenda’ has substance or it is mere tokenism!

This poser is valid because on the governance front the Prime Minister is facing a Catch-22 situation, which is defined as “a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions”. The ‘difficult circumstance’ has been created by the Sangh Parivar, comprising his ministers and party MPs pursuing a hate agenda, causing nationwide doubts and apprehensions. Modi’s governance agenda as rolled out and as practised are ‘mutually conflicting’.

At the core of Modi’s agenda is ‘people-oriented government and governance, putting citizens at the centre of development processes’ and ‘minimum government, maximum governance’. It also has the promise of reforming the current governance system and making the government agencies accountable to the citizens.

But, nearly eight months down the line, there is as yet no sign of a governance architecture or blueprint. This is probably due to lack of clarity about ‘governance’ and hijacking of the agenda by vested interests. In the process, governance is reduced to the government, its bureaucracy, laws, rules, policies, programmes, processes and procedures. Governance is far more than that and, in reality, is a joint venture between the government, private and voluntary sectors. The government creates a conducive political, administrative, legal and living environment; the private sector promotes enterprise and generates jobs and wealth; and the voluntary sector educates and mobilises citizen groups to participate in economic, social and political activities. All are partners in the venture of good governance, which only can deliver ‘inclusive development’.

Being a joint venture, governance should adhere to the basic functional norm of involving stakeholders in the decision-making and implementation process. This is not happening and unilateralism prevails. The recent Indo-Russian nuclear deal for 12 more reactors despite the pathetic performance of the Russia-built Koodankulam nuclear power plant and prolonged public protest is a typical example. Also, a leaked “secret” Intelligence Bureau report condemned several NGOs and eminent activists as anti-national for opposing such detrimental projects. The report accused the voluntary sector of ‘taking down’ India’s development and negatively impacting GDP growth to the extent of 2-3 per cent per annum!

This is a fallacy manufactured by Modi’s blue-eyed ‘core governance team’ that has its own pre-set ideology, philosophy and priorities which are different from the ones propounded by him. This is basically an inbreeding coterie comprising people associated with several think-tanks identified with a particular mode of thought. The list includes the India Foundation, Friends of BJP, the Centre for Accountable Governance, the India Policy Foundation, the Arthakranti Pratishthan, Niti Central, the Public Policy Research Centre and, above all, the RSS-backed Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF).

From among these think-tanks have emerged an array of pro-corporate ministers, key party honchos who call the tune, the top echelon of the PMO, the all-powerful National Security Adviser (Ajit Doval, who headed VIF), the head of public service broadcaster Prasar Bharati and some of the most visible party spokespersons. Now the VIF is headed by a former Army Chief, whose name finds mention as one of the beneficiaries in the Adarsh housing scam!

Just one example would convey the strong corporate/MNC influence over this ‘core governance team’. A Minister of State in the Finance Ministry once headed the Omidyar Network, the philanthropic arm of eBay in India, and pushed for FDI in e-commerce. A close associate of his worked for the Blackstone Group, a stakeholder in a large number of industries, including the Vedanta Group of which PC Chidambaram was a standing counsel and Director on the Board till the day he took over as the Union Finance Minister in UPA I. Ever since the BJP took power, this Group launched a high-octane campaign, advocating that real ‘development’ for India is to denude its verdant jungles/forests and dig out the mines and minerals below. That it could lead to disastrous ecological imbalance and loss of livelihood for millions of tribals is not their concern.

The Blackstone Group has also been mentoring POSCO and Monsanto, mired in serious controversies relating to environment, tribal land, coastal ecology and Genetically Modified crops. Other companies are Jindal and Google. Till recently, Blackstone India was headed by a former CEO of Reliance Industries.

The Omidyar Network is said to have funded a 2012 study on ‘Why India Needs Aadhaar’. Executed by researchers from the University of California, it made out a case for the then controversial Unique Identification Number project which the BJP had strongly opposed. Now, after Modi’s endorsement, Aadhaar is being linked to not just transfer of benefits to the poor but also to various government services, including issue of passports, gas connections, and so on. Another think-tank top-brass heads the management team in India of a firm, Zeus Caps, which has a Saudi prince as its chairman and describes itself as an investment platform for infrastructure projects.

For inputs on policy-making and investment decisions, Modi’s governance style is depending less on ministers and bureaucrats and much more on private and ‘independent’ think-tanks. This trend started with the UPA, but is now pursued with much more finesse.

While the UPA was constantly criticised by the BJP for depending on an “extra-constitutional” NGO called the National Advisory Council, the NDA government is relying on corporate-controlled ‘independent’ think-tanks for policy decisions on ‘investment’ and security-related issues. Access to these ‘intellectual portals’ is severely restricted and they are not open to fresh or innovative ideas from sources that do not toe their line. Most ‘development agenda’ appear to have been pre-cooked during the UPA days, outwardly opposed by the BJP, but are now being dished out with renewed vigour!

These include ensuring “minimum government, maximum governance”; unleashing capabilities of the young; empowerment, not entitlement; expediting POSCO Steel and ultra mega power projects; Mumbai Metro; Delhi-Mumbai and other industrial corridors; bullet trains between top metros; dramatically opening up defence production to the private sector; National Population Register, census and electoral rolls to be linked with Aadhaar; 100 smart cities; and slums giving way to better living spaces. Added to these are relaxing SEZ rules to make it virtual real estate business; upping the insurance FDI; and subverting the Land Acquisition Act 2013 to favour carpetbaggers at the cost of farmers! On the foreign policy front, it is pandering to Sri Lanka’s ‘dynastic tyranny’!

This is Modi’s unfolding governance agenda. In the process, three of his crucial pre- and post-election commitments have been cast to the winds. These are: Working with the people on the principle of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’, thereby re-establishing the credibility of the institutions of democracy involving full and committed participation of the voluntary sector of civil society in the process of governance; meeting the greatest challenge of ending the curse of poverty in India with emphasis on “poverty elimination”, not mere “poverty alleviation”; and, since the first claim on development belongs to the poor, the government focusing its attention on those who need the basic necessities of life most urgently and providing security to all citizens.

For inputs on policy-making and investment, Modi’s governance style is depending less on ministers and bureaucrats and much more on private and ‘independent’ think-tanks. This trend started with the UPA, but is now pursued with much more finesse

More specifically speaking, failure to retrieve the black money stashed abroad is seen as the biggest governance failure of the Modi government thus far. This is intriguing because, as head of VIF in 2011, Doval had laid down the strategy and measures to get back the money plundered abroad. He wanted the government to design a multi-pronged strategy—ranging from enacting appropriate laws, empowering its investigative and intelligence agencies, using political and diplomatic pressures and leveraging India’s new economic clout—to achieve its goals. Importantly, political will has to be created to achieve this national objective. Some definite steps suggested by him were:

i) A penal law to declare criminals those who have illegally stashed money abroad. The Government of India (GoI) should then claim itself as the sole owner and beneficiary of all Indian monies, assets and bank accounts held abroad by or the dependants of Indian nationals without due declaration.

ii) Since a substantial portion of this money owes its origin to criminal activities like corruption, misappropriation, fraud, cheating, drug/land mafia loot, terrorist financing and so on, which are all cognisable offences, GoI should suo moto register an omnibus criminal FIR against suspected unidentified persons and initiate investigation. The government can then get assistance of foreign police and, more importantly, gain access to banks abroad to get vital information.

iii) Unclaimed monies stashed abroad should be declared by a special law as vested in GoI with a provision that they can be claimed only by providing credible evidence to show that these monies were earned in legal business.

iv) The present and potential power of India should be leveraged, like the US and Germany did, to reclaim the black monies of its nationals stashed abroad.

v) Every electoral candidate should file an affidavit before elections that he does not hold illegal money abroad. By an Act of Parliament, persons who have accumulated funds abroad should be barred from holding any public office and getting loans from banks as a form of punishment.

In conclusion, the super cop wrote: “As a nation, we owe it to the deprived and ordinary people of India and its future citizens the sacred duty of unearthing these vast national resources, which have the potential to transform the country into a developed nation much sooner than we can otherwise…Being viewed as a corrupt and dishonest nation of buccaneers, who bolt away with billions of dollars when a vast population of our country is living in abject poverty, will hardly give us the moral and ethical authority to be of example to the world. The time is propitious and we need to act, displaying highest degree of national will, to get our looted money back.” Mafia money hoarded abroad is a serious national security issue. As NSA, Doval is part of the all-powerful PMO and has the full confidence of the Prime Minister. Yet no steps on the above lines have been initiated!

If Modi is to deliver his ‘Development-cum-Governance Agenda’, he must get out of the Catch-22 syndrome and break free of the inbreeding coterie which is taking him onto the wrong track. Otherwise the poignant poser—‘Modi Governance: Quo Vadis?’—will continue to loom large!

The writer is a former Army and IAS officer. Email: deva1940@gmail.com

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