Kamal Morarka

One Year Of BJP-NDA Rule: A Dispassionate Analysis : NOTHING NEGATIVE BUT NOTHING RADICALLY POSITIVE

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I can see the Cabinet of today doesn’t have much talent, they are at best mediocre and they are doing their job. It is a big thing if Narendra Modi can stem the corruption and Cabinet Ministers don’t become corrupt. It is a big thing but they don’t have brilliant ideas. Overall the situation is not good. The Prime Minister should change the portfolios of these people — what they can’t handle they can’t handle. I think a Cabinet reshuffle is required as the first step on completion of one year. Give competent people their position and give targets. If you have targets they can be implemented otherwise you fall between two stools… If they really want to show they are  a different Government they have got miles and miles to go


The whole country is agog on the one year of completion in office by the BJP Government-NDA Government led by Narendra Modi. While the NDA has announced country wide rallies and taken to explaining to the people the achievements of the last one year, the Congress party has taken upon itself rebuttal of the various points being made by the ruling establishment. Let us analyse it dispassionately. The expectations aroused by the election campaign were unrealistic to any political observer who is not biased either way. Therefore, a person like me is not disappointed because I did not expect that in one year they can perform any miracle.

The Prime Minister has been lucky that last year’s monsoon, after stumbling a bit, was quite alright and food grain production did not go down. An extra bit of luck was the reduction of oil prices on the international front, which came down quite substantially. This gave elbow room to the Finance Minister to allocate more money for development and for schemes. The criticism, ironically, is from the corporate sector, who were expecting a bonanza in last year’s Budget and this year’s Budget and which has not come to pass. I do not give much importance to this because the corporate sector will never be happy.

Let us test the Government on its own schemes. The earlier schemes of Swachh Bharat and Ganga cleaning, etc., have really nothing to do with results. You cannot have a Swachh Bharat in one year, you cannot clean the Ganga instantly. But on these two points also it should be understood that making India Swachh is not the job of the Central Government, certainly not the job of the Prime Minister. It is the job of NGOs or Panchayats, Municipalities, local bodies, and nothing really has come by way of policy as to how the country will be made clean. That’s a disappointment.

Secondly, on this Ganga cleaning, the fact is that every year when the snow melts so much water comes that the Ganga becomes clean by itself. What we have to do to keep the Ganga clean is actually to undo. We have to undo polluting the Ganga by industrial effluents from factories, leather tanneries, etc., which are polluting the Ganga everyday. If we deal with that pollution the Ganga will remain clean. Instead of putting it in any scheme to clean the Ganga, money should be put into treating these effluents so that what goes into the Ganga does not pollute it further. We don’t know the details of the scheme; Rajiv Gandhi had also made a Ganga Authority in 1985 when he came to power; after twenty nine- thirty years we are repeating the same thing. Basically it will be spending a lot of money with very few results to show.

The other big thing and which can become big is called Make in India — the Prime Minister has given a slogan. Let us understand the realities. In 1990 the size of the Indian railway network was bigger than China’s. Today, after twenty five years, China’s railway network is four times India’s. This is a big-big change. In India, if we want to do a Make in India what do we need? We need money coming in by way of FDI, we need an exchange policy so that our exports can take place, we need a monetary policy, we need lowering of interest rates, all this is integrated. I as an observer do not see any sign of this happening. What is happening today is high interest rates, high rupee value which both go to help US investors. They can send money to India and earn on the stock market or other arbitrage and take the money back.

Nobody will ever invest to Make in India because the inflation rate is high. The dollar, when compared to other currencies and when compared to the rupee — see the difference. The dollar has depreciated 18 per cent; here it is only 4 per cent. Why? Because we are keeping an artificial rate. We need to allow the rupee to slide, but that cannot happen because the slogan was that the Congress party has got the rupee battered and we will bring it back to 40 rupees a dollar. RSS people are saying 1 dollar to 1 rupee, because they don’t understand what they are talking about. I don’t blame them because they are not economists, I don’t blame newspapers except the economic ones but I don’t see any columns by any writers making a strong case for the rupee to slide a bit and for exchange rates to be drastically cut if you want investments to come in and if you want large manufacturing capacities to be created.

Even if you create, how will you export if the exchange rate is what it is today? So I don’t think the Make in India slogan will take us anywhere.  Only one year has gone, four years are still to go but I don’t think the Prime Minister himself is clued in on what needs to be done. Unfortunately the Reserve Bank Governor, the Economic Advisor and the Minister of State for Finance are all wedded to the American, Bretton Woods, IMF, World Bank theology. That will not help you. China, when they wanted to make their infrastructure big, did not bother about what Americans thought; they made their own policies in their own way to achieve their own results. Once you are strong you can later adjust. Even when we talk of foreign exchange reserves, unprecedented, record high, we must not forget China has got four times the reserves that India has. So it’s alright to compare ourselves with China and say we have 70 billion trade with them but out of which 55 billion they are sending, 40 billion is the trade deficit. All these things I don’t think anybody is attending to; I don’t blame the Finance Minister because he is not an economist but they definitely need more thinking people on board.

The press of course is very casual. The two criticisms that we are reading about the Prime Minister are both misplaced. One is, he goes abroad too often. This makes no sense. The Prime Minister has to go abroad. He has to meet heads of state. Either a head of state comes here or you go there. It is totally uncalled for, it is a bad joke — if you want to crack it as a joke — that he is visiting India. This is not done. Second, they keep on referring to one suit that he once wore with his name. Mentioning it once and poking fun at him once is alright, but that can’t become the central theme of criticising him or his functioning. This Government is guilty of much more omission, commission, not doing the right things, but a serious press, serious writing, and serious columnists are all gone — we are talking of frivolities. Recently, the Finance Minister held a Press Conference and he tried to say, rightly so, that in one year the Prime Minister has restored the authority of the Prime Minister because the previous Prime Minister was working at the directions of the Party President. Instead of saying that, what he said was that Narendra Modi has again restored the office of the Prime Minister.

The newspapers are reporting that Narendra Modi has made the PMO strong. The Office of the Prime Minister doesn’t mean the PMO. The PMO has no powers, the PMO is a secretariat. What he tried to say was the authority of the Prime Minister has been established. The press will not be able to help because if this the reading of the journalists and if this is how they write they’ll not be able to guide the Government in any way. I personally feel, after all, we have a Government — it will last for another four years. If the country is to benefit we must have clear cut policies. And this aspirational India, as the Finance Minister said, the expectations of the people are high, but the aspirations are not the same in the rural areas and urban areas. In rural areas people want jobs.

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act  (MGNREGA) — thank god this Government has understood that MGNREGA has been helpful. There are leakages, there is corruption like everywhere else in India, but to blanketedly criticise it that it was a wrong scheme is not sensible.  It gave relief to the poor, to the rural poor, and even today the prosperity you see in country sides is a result of these schemes. Alright, there is corruption, maybe at the Panchayat level, the local level, people take money but the poor people are really helped.

The one sector which has been neglected till now has been agriculture, irrigation. If we do not do anything then after five-ten years we’ll again be in trouble. Today, we have adequate food production but with the growth in population that will not last. A specialised team should attack both these — Make in India which means industrialisation and agriculture. There should be two expert committees.

It is being talked about that Modi is guided more by a few bureaucrats. Senior IAS officers are saying that our Ministers have no power so we have to prepare the notes and schemes and send them to the PMO and they never come back, either the PM is very busy or the officials in the PMO do not agree. Senior IAS officers, some of them on condition of anonymity, are saying that there is more policy paralysis now than there was ever in Manmohan Singh’s regime. That I don’t know but the fact remains that the bench strength in the Cabinet and among MPs is low, so unless you have experts from outside to guide you, you cannot achieve drastic policy reforms or implementation success.

I can see the Cabinet of today doesn’t have much talent, they are at best mediocre and they are doing their job. It is a big thing if Narendra Modi can stem the corruption and Cabinet Ministers don’t become corrupt, it is a big thing but they don’t have brilliant ideas. On the negative side I see they have appointed a Defense Minister who is very popular in a small State like Goa, wearing his colored bushirt and Sunday morning he goes to buy his own vegetables — people are enthused that our Chief Minister is so simple he comes without security. It is alright for Goa, it is a tourist State. As Defense Minister of the country, the performance is awful. First he gives a statement that I can’t give details about a certain incident because our assets abroad will be compromised. He is the first Defense Minister of any country who has publically agreed that we have got spies abroad — this is not how a Defense Minister speaks. Recently he said we will tackle terrorists in Kashmir through terrorists — again this is not what a Defense Minister should speak.

Overall the situation is not good. The Prime Minister should change the portfolios of these people, what they can’t handle they can’t handle. I think a Cabinet reshuffle is required as the first step for completion of one year. Give competent people their position and give a target. If the Prime Minister is serious about Make in India, give a target of how many factories are to be set up, what products have to be made and what is to be exported and for that whatever policies have to be changed you change. You don’t have to listen to America all the time. America can do precious little to help you, it is better to follow China. Since this Prime Minister’s flavour is China, follow China. China doesn’t allow mining in private hands, China doesn’t allow banks in private hands, China fixes a target and ruthlessly follows it. Of course we have democracy here which China doesn’t have, but within this democracy you can do a lot.

If you have targets they can be implemented otherwise you fall between two stools. You are trying to reject the Congress model of MGNREGA, agricultural growth, inclusive growth, you don’t like all that and your new found policy will remain on paper because the rest of the machinery is not geared to it. So the Prime Minister should urgently apply his mind. Then there is Niti Aayog. I don’t think anybody knows what is the function of Niti Aayog. The Planning Commission — we knew the functions, but the Planning Commission has been disbanded and now there is Niti Aayog for which you brought an economist from America. The Planning Commission Deputy Chairman had a Cabinet rank, this poor man has not even been given a Cabinet rank. I believe bureaucrats didn’t want to give him a Minister of State rank which I think has been given finally. You don’t have to insult a person, I don’t know why he is working, he should go back to America if he is not getting his due. And what is the Niti Aayog supposed to do? Are they supposed to make a plan? Or the planning for the 12th, 13th Five Year Plans has all gone now? Now it will just be year to year budgeting and allocation? There should be clarity, otherwise the whole institution of Niti Aayog will become just another think tank without any purpose.

The Government had an opportunity to appoint the first Chairman of the newly conceived Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) Bank. A lot of names were coming in the papers but the final appointment is a total disappointment. Making a regular banker like K.V Kamath, who at best can be considered mediocre, is a very-very poor choice. He doesn’t have to go there to lend money to individuals. BRICS Bank was supposed to change the financial architecture of the world as a counter to the World Bank, IMF theology. The name of Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie was being mentioned in the papers and a man like me was very happy because a person like Yashwant Sinha who has earlier also talked of changing the world’s financial architecture, he could have made a mark in Shanghai. China would have stood with you, that we can’t have the same system which was put in place in 1945. How far it would succeed is not easy to say, but there would have been an alternative model. With K.V Kamath we have lost that chance.

So I think overall in the Government’s one year, according to me, nothing negative has happened. I am glad to report that the  fears of people like me that there will be communal clashes and the majority community will try to impose itself, all that have largely not happened except cases of churches being put on fire etc., which have been dealt with locally. To that extent there is relief but on the positive side a lot needs to be done. I read somewhere that people who voted for the BJP are happy and the people who didn’t vote for the BJP are saying Acche Din have not come. It’s the other way round. It’s the people who voted for Modi who had high expectations of Modi who were disappointed. Today, people like me who never had much expectations I think are reasonably okay. A UPA-3 Government would have functioned in the same manner as this Government has functioned in one year– nothing negative but nothing radically positive. If they really want to show they are a different Government they have got miles and miles to go.

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