The Modi Sarkar exhibited its political prowess and its grasp of realpolitik again this week. In a well-scripted and efficiently-orchestrated operation it converted an enemy into a frenemy, uninstalled a regime and installed its own—almost as if an app was being replaced by another.
The new arrangement may appear to be a joint venture, and surely Nitish Kumar and the JD(U) would like to believe so, but it is really an acquisition. It is what investment bankers would describe as a ‘management takeover’—where it is implicit that the management is the dispensable part of the deal. The move itself was in the works for some months and the operative parts were executed in 24 hours flat —what stood out was the efficiency of execution where all the moving parts were in place.
As of Thursday, the BJP and its allies have rendered 18 states Congress-mukt—critically, these states account for 340 seats in the Lok Sabha. The BJP has been and is continuously in poll mode. Since coming to power, the BJP like an army has marched to a tune and expanded its footprint—organically and inorganically—winning polls to conquer, cobbling alliances to reclaim and consolidate its market share.
The unipolar political landscape presents an opportunity for transformation. Effectively, the BJP is in power in states which account for over 70 per cent of the population—roughly 875 million. It is in power in seven of the 10 largest states, including Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
In terms of composition, the basket of NDA-ruled states includes the most industrialised states of Maharashtra and Gujarat; mineral-rich Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand; agrarian Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar; tourism havens Jammu & Kashmir, Rajasthan and Goa; and money order economy of Uttarakhand. And the per capita income of these states range from Rs 2.7 lakh for Goa to Rs 34,000 for Bihar.
Embedded in this diversity is the potential for change and transformation to share best practices across states—for instance, funding of police by state electricity boards to curb power theft as being tried in Uttar Pradesh, incentivising group farming as done by Maharashtra.
As a party, the BJP has propelled and prospered by deploying bottom of the pyramid politics and economics. It is now in power in every Bimaru state—barring Odisha. The circumstance is tailor-made for the idea of Team India to be brought into play. The imperative for transformation stems from the potential upside, both economic and political. Also critical is the embedded electoral risks linked with non-delivery.
The opportunity can be split into the general and the granular. Take a look at the flagship ideas which address the generalised potential for development across the states—Make in India, Ease of Doing Business, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Smart Cities, Ujwala Yojana, UDAY, Skill India, Digital India etc. The ideas are struggling because of a bipolar disorder—what the Centre can do and what the states must do. Can the BJP decolonise the states?
Success of Make in India requires liberation of factors of productivity. There has been some progress in some states on land acquisition. Is there a template of best practices? Labour laws are another area of concern for entrepreneurs —both regular businesses and particularly for startups. The Centre has only last week consolidated and streamlined the Central laws, but what about the laws at the state level—can the Modi sarkar design a model to enable formal employment?
India’s rankings in Ease of Doing Business suffer primarily due to the perpetuation of permission raj. Faster clearances are good, but not enough. The need is to question the need for many of them. The central issue is about the multiplicity of layers of clearances. The question before the government—now that there is a common political DNA across the regimes—is whether and how much can it decentralise and cut down the red tape?
The Smart Cities initiative has been flailing. What is needed is a policy that enables creation of new urban habitats. Could the existential crisis of Census Towns be leveraged to create new cities/towns to host the many other ideas, including that of affordable housing? It is now two decades and more since the amendments to the Constitution were passed to enable local governance. How about inducting commonality of purpose across states on urbanisation?
There is also opportunity in the granular. An old chestnut, focus on 100 worst districts, is back on the radar. Why not try some of the ideas at a granular level in the worst districts? For instance, better productivity for income enhancement is critical to uplift populations in UP, Bihar and elsewhere. Critical to this is access to credit, technology and markets. And this requires model contracts to connect demand and supply, to enable farmers—Budget 2017 mentions this and Niti Aayog is supposed to be working on it.
There are thousands of schools without electricity. Can the independent/off-grid model of electrification, mooted by Prof Ashok Jhunjhunwala, be adopted for lighting up schools? Over 300 million lack access to electricity—both availability and affordability are issues. The Ujwala gas connections to homes idea, similarly, is affected by income and cost economics. It needs not just expansion, but sustenance. Drinking water in over 200 districts is affected by quality and quantity issues. Can the startup ecosystem be deployed to deliver portable priced solutions?
The BJP has, apparently, set itself a new ambitious target—40 per cent of the vote share and 400 seats for the NDA in 2019. Whether it gets there, depends on a host of known knowns and known unknowns—political destiny, as a British leader famously said, is determined less by the past and more by the vagaries of politics and events.
The BJP has relentlessly presented every failure as a consequence of six decades of the Congress rule. Much of what ails India is located at the intersection of political and systemic dysfunction. The party has been presented with the chance to prove that it is the natural party of governance. If it chooses, it can prove it is the party with a difference.
Author of Aadhaar: A Biometric History of India’s 12 Digit Revolution, and Accidental India