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Marching with a Billion: Analysing Narendra Modi’s Government at Midterm- Review

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Title: Marching with a Billion: Analysing Narendra Modi’s Government at Midterm- Review

Author: Uday Mahurkar

Publisher: Penguin Random House India 2017


Pages 234 Rs.499

This is a review, not of the Prime Minister’s performance but of the book, though it is impossible to talk about the one and ignore the other, so long as that famous white stubble grazes against your consciousness at every page – particularly when our reservations on his transition to New Delhi have metamorphosed to somewhere between reluctant admiration to outright adulation. There are obvious fringes at both ends of that range which, one hopes, will sober up to a nation-building perspective, soon. Somewhere along this range stands the ‘purely political’ opposition, while world opinion of Modi (and therefore India) soars unprecedentedly.

Klaus Schwab (Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum) for instance, sets the tone of the book when he concludes his Foreword referring to the “great opportunity for Indians” to transform India “with such a decisive and strong leader”. Picking up four defining qualities of good leaders, viz. Brains, Soul, Heart and Good Nerves, Schwab attributes all these in full measure to Modi.

Mahurkar, the author, divides the book into eight chapters, covering the major initiatives of the Modi Government (GST appears past the point of midterm analysis, apparently). Inclusive development and the involvement of the common people through various levels of interaction are covered in the first chapter. He then goes through the Digital Revolution, Infrastructure and Development, Strategy for Foreign Affairs, and Fiscal Management – closing this super-eulogistic exercise with a chapter on the demonetization episode. All through, he emphasizes Modi’s unique way of spearheading discussions on each subject and guiding its implementation through dedicated assistants in the Party and the Bureaucracy. Even corporate houses, accustomed to the middleman-culture of Delhi, are said to be falling in line. Mahurkar, in a sort of righteous glee also remarks in his Introduction, that crony capitalism has clearly been dealt a big blow – notwithstanding certain names floating about in the opposition-ranting.

After praising the dramatic turnaround of the infrastructure ministries “evident in their unprecedented performance” he remarks upon the more impressive attempts at “an enabling model to help the poor”. This is a marked change from the earlier tendency to waive loans indiscriminately and distribute freebies – with an eye on the elections and the unspoken hope that the need for such freebies would continue indefinitely. Mahurkar also mentions several schemes like the LPG scheme for poor families (after Modi’s successful appeal to the people to give up their subsidy) launched from Ballia, the Gram Uday se Bharat Uday Abhiyan launched from Mhou and the Insurance Schemes launched from Kolkata, saying that the launching was done at places where the people who would most benefit from these schemes reside. The choice of these locations is obviously great PR, but the schemes could well have been launched from desperate villages in Orissa or Tamil Nadu. The launching of the insurance schemes from West Bengal (an Opposition-led State – Mahurkar insists on pointing out) shows the government’s “commitment to federalism and its focus on developing the backward eastern parts of India”. Backward eastern parts from Kolkata?

Mahurkar also describes Modi’s plan for changes in core governance. The first step is to strike at high-level corruption by stopping corporate houses from interfering in policy making: in all fairness to the Government as much as to the people, we need to wait for clear signs of this step and its effects. Then, says Mahurkar, Modi went on to “select honest bureaucrats”. Commendable, except for the recurrent, disturbing image of Diogenes with his lantern. The third step is to use technology to bring transparency in governance while the fourth is to make the citizens partners in development by reaching out to them directly and limiting the role of middlemen.

There is a rather reluctant acknowledgement of the contribution of previous governments to the platforms on which the present government is able to operate. The public sector / infrastructural setup, the network of skilling institutions from ITIs to IITs and IIMs … but Mahurkar does notice a wart when he says that, “Modi is yet to pass the test of an institution builder that is a prerequisite for becoming a nation builder; he will have to qualify in this area if he is to be counted among India’s greats”.

While the book is a passable compendium of the work of a statesman-in-the-making, the reader cannot but be shocked at Mahurkar’s observation when referring to the failure to get a Bill passed in 2015 “…because the Opposition Parties refused to cooperate. This is a reminder,” he says, “of the price a nation has to pay for selecting a democratic form of governance.” (Emphasis added). This, coming from a seasoned journalist, is ominous indeed. Is it our political leaders we should fear, or ourselves who, under claims of intellectualism (and reeking of sycophancy), would wish away our freedoms?