Narendra Modi has to hit the ground running

In his eloquent electoral victory speech from the BJP headquarters, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a commitment to his supporters that he would do nothing for himself. Even though Modi has many similarities with Plato’s “Philosopher King” in the context of vision, wisdom and asceticism, the PM is essentially a man of action. And this all will be put to the test in the next five years. This means that corrective action must be taken from the very first day of the new government.

One of the biggest challenges that Modi 2.0 faces is how to protect brand India from his adversaries both within and outside the country. It would be naïve of him to assume that the rise of India will be benign. No, it will be contested all the way by competing nations and their all-weather friends. He will have to bridge the gap between the global perception of India and reality with little or no support from the western media. A very serious attempt will be made by Modi’s detractors to damage him globally through labels like human rights violator, dictator and fascist. Brand India will be attacked on account of minority harassment, rapes and suppression of rights in Jammu and Kashmir. As the government itself may not be up to the task of handling the counter-narrative, PM Modi will have to overcome his wariness of the media to project the reality or use social media to call out fake news and views peddled by his detractors.

The other option for him is to engage the adversary and try and elicit genuine criticism based on facts and not on perception. Mind you, PM Modi, as many global leaders will now admit, can be very charming when he wants to be.

The second big challenge for him is to undertake serious bureaucratic reforms in the initial stages as the system is process-driven and not product-oriented. Unless the file and process is complete, the Indian mandarin will just not move and could not care less what happens to the final product. A classic example of this are the problems which beset the upgradation of critical border infrastructure, where bidders for building snowbound roads along the China border are very limited in number and often there is a single vendor option. This, as per CVC guidelines, leads to the rejection of the tender and starting the process all over again. The bureaucrat has done his job on the file but the work has not moved forward an inch. In the national interest, such problems must be resolved quickly, failing which India will always lag behind China and yet be compared to it by Modi’s detractors. Simply put, it is the bureaucratic process that is choking India’s global rise with all decisions being taken by the secretary of the department and the file taking ages to move. Mere delegation of power is not the answer to this gridlock. Bureaucratic reforms in which genuine merit and innovation are valued over mere seniority and zero tolerance of corruption are the answers. This may sound utopian but this “chakravyuh” of the Indian civil service needs to be broken.

Third, Modi will have to handle economic turbulence deftly till the 2020 US elections. The US-China trade wars and the US-Russia differences will create new fronts all over the world with India often called upon to take positions for or against the election-bound Trump administration. This becomes a bigger challenge as India faces imminent US notification of withdrawal of the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) in the face of the slow progress in the resolution of the India-US trade deficit. Modi, along with President Trump, will have to use their personal clout to reach an agreement on trade as the bureaucracy on both sides is only interested in protecting its turf at a time when there is a perceptible hardening of positions on both sides. The answer to the US withdrawal does not lie in Indian retaliation but in the resolution of trade differences as both countries need each other in a worsening strategic environment.

Fourth, Modi will face a challenge to his resurgence on the national and internal security front. The surgical strike and air strike have raised the bar on India’s response under the Modi regime to any terror strike by a group based in Pakistan. Since the principal terrorist groups based in Pakistan are alive and kicking, it is only a matter of time before they strike on Indian soil. The orchestrator of the Pulwama attack, the Pakistan based Jaish-e-Mohammed group, is known for violent retaliation with its leader, Masood Azhar, not interested whether this leads to all-out hostilities. The Pakistan army’s other arm, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, is no better as demonstrated by the 26/11 attacks. The internal challenge will come from the Maoists and urban Naxals, who will test the Centre by trying to present the development of infrastructure in the interiors of India.

Last, for Modi to provide the last mile delivery for Centrally-sponsored schemes in the Congress-ruled states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Trinamool Congress-ruled West Bengal will be a challenge. Schemes like Ayushman Bharat, Ujwala, agriculture and unorganised sectors reforms will run into obstacles in these states on account of ideological differences. If the schemes succeed, the state leadership will claim credit; failure will be dumped squarely on Modi. But then the PM is known to climb mountains in adverse conditions.

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First Published:
May 24, 2019 21:11 IST

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