Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Expecting strong governance from Modi? Just look at the US first!

Many supporters of Narendra Modi fool themselves by saying that Narendra Modi is the messiah of governance. They point towards Gujarat to prove their point. It’s a different matter that many of the statistics Modi hurls at us are fake, earning him the #feku tag. It’s also a different matter than Modi usurps Gujarat’s success (even though Raghuram Rajan disagrees), achieved over several decades, and thanks largely to the industrious nature of its people, as his own. For his supporters, what matters is that Modi has provided great governance in Gujarat (really???). And he will the same at the national level.

If Modi’s supporters only looked westwards, towards their favorite country, the US of America, they will realize just how much of a hogwash their advocacy of Modi’s governance really is. They may even start to appreciate the reasons for the “policy paralysis” that plagued the UPA-2 government for a couple of years (before it was replaced by policy activism). But only if they want to review the facts objectively; something I am sure they cannot do!

The US’s biggest problem, and the reason for the current governmental shut-down, is because the two elected bodies – the House of Representatives and the Senate – are controlled by two different parties – the Republicans and the Democrats respectively. And they simply cannot see eye to eye on many matters of core ideology. This leads to legislative bottlenecks all the time. Even if this government shut-down is resolved soon enough, there is an even bigger problem waiting to be tackled. Soon, within October itself, the US will start to default on its loan payments if the two bodies do not raise the government’s debt ceiling from the present $16.7 trillion. Going by the way things are, it is not impossible that the two parties will not be able to find a resolution.

Does Modi think he is a better administrator than Obama? If Modi has won three elections as CM, Obama has won the maximum permissible two. If Modi gives impressive speeches, Obama gives even better (remember Modi plagiarized Obama’s “Yes we can” call?!). If Modi connects with the people, as his supporters claim, so does Obama who has the right instincts to feel what Americans feel. And yet, we are to believe that where Obama failed, Modi will succeed?

Modi is used to ruling in a state that has always given the ruling party a clear majority. That makes life really easy. So easy in fact that absolutely perverted pieces of legislation – like the recent amendments to the state’s Lok Ayukta Act giving overwhelming powers to appoint the Lok Ayukta to the ruling party – get passed without so much as taking the opposition’s views into account. This ability to pass legislation as he pleases, makes Modi claim he is “different” (even if his party isn’t!). But what would Modi do if he had a fractured coalition to run in his state, and if each coalition partner was a hero in himself? Imagine if there were twenty parties sharing seats in the Gujarat Assembly, and the BJP-led coalition barely reached the half-way mark? Imagine also that there was a second house, a Vidhan Parishad in Gujarat (which there isn’t), which was led by a Congress-led coalition. What would Modi have done with his Lok Ayukta amendments? What would he have done if the Vidhan Parishad had created a storm when he gave away land to Tatas and Adani, reportedly at discounted rates? What would he have done if even a few members of some minor party had stormed the well of the Assembly or the Vidhan Parishad and stalled the working for sessions on end?

Modi would hardly have remained the governance guru he calls himself (I don’t). He would hardly have won his 3rd term in fact. He would not have been able to indulge his friends in the private sector, and none of them would have praised him as effusively as they do today (of course, they praise several Congress CMs as well, only that’s not reported!).

Modi’s hardly the only one to benefit from majority verdicts at the state level. The Congress’s Haryana, Delhi, Maharashtra, Andhra are all run as effectively and with as much top-order governance as Gujarat is. A majority is not a guarantee for good performance though (as UP and West Bengal will show), but it certainly helps in a big way (Jayalalitha will appreciate this point too!).

Despite the BJP’s methods in Parliament, we are lucky that we haven’t reached the point that the US has, when even the annual budget is not passed by the two houses. Maybe the BJP will take a cue from the US now! Maybe the February session of Parliament next year, which will pass the interim budget, will be held to ranson like in the US.

One last point. How should Parliament’s conduct be in today’s divided political situation? Who should dominate, and be allowed to have way, when an irreconcilable disagreement happens? In my mind, the government should. Because the government, represented by a majority in the Lok Sabha, has the mandate of the people to run the country. They should have their five full years to show what they stand for, what their ideologies are, and what they are capable or incapable of doing. After five years, the people will know clearly how good or bad the government is. If they are unhappy, they can throw it out. At present, it’s impossible for people to know who stands where. When they see a logjam in Parliament, they don’t know whom to blame. When they see the opposition, they don’t know what the opposition stands for, because no one has to clarify his stand in Parliament. My suggestion is that the opposition must always let the government have the way, with clear statements in Parliament that their support (and vote) is in spite of disagreements. This will ensure that we never face the shut-down the US is facing now.

The real truth is that running Gujarat, with its absolute majority, is a far simpler job for Modi that running India, with its divisive politics, is for Manmohan Singh. To call Manmohan Singh weak because of this is bizarre. For Modi to project that he would have done a better job, without acknowledging this essential reality, is childish. Maybe his supporters believe him, but a lot many more know this to be yet another #feku story!

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