The footsteps of history mark the memory lane of power. After ascending the heady pinnacle of power, promises made by leaders often vanish in the mists of pride. To some extent you are an exception. Soon after you were sworn in, I wrote a similar open letter in May 2014. Till today, I’m not sure you read it. Nor am I certain it was brought to your notice by your well-equipped team of advisors and researchers.
You’ve given India admirable ideas like Swachh Bharat, Skill India, Make in India, Ujjwala, and Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas. India also scored maximum GDP growth as against other economies. But now is the time to look within. I’ve known you for over four decades. I’ve been one of your few critical admirers. I’m aware that you always speak from both the heart and the mind. You created history in 2014 when India plumped for an alternative leader and identity.
I’m sure you must’ve done enough introspection on your gains and losses in your first term as the prime minister of the first single-party majority government in three decades. You effortlessly and majestically smashed the egos of those who had refused to shake your hand or break bread with you. On your visits to 90-odd countries, many global leaders broke protocol, trying to make amends for painting you a bigot. You’ve been a preferred guest at the head table of almost every international gathering of heads of governments.
Perhaps they saw a mammoth market in Mighty Modi. But they aren’t the direct participants in the next elections that will decide your second term. Left to them they would like a weaker Modi in office. Your next term depends on the masses, and not the classes who will celebrate on the streets if you are defeated.
In your last interview you re-emphasized your contempt for the elitist Lutyens’ cult and culture. You couldn’t join the chatteratti club, being from a non-privileged background. Yet, your opponents accuse you of pandering to the rich. After 55 months in power, the Indian elitist establishment has accepted you as the prime minister but not as a statesman who represents their concept of India and belongs to their exalted stratosphere.
They gloat over your inability to curb and cut the omnipresent tentacles of the steel frame. Based on your powerful promise of providing Maximum Governance with Minimum Government, I had suggested the road map for Modi Mission in my previous epistle:
Reduce the size of the Cabinet. The prime minister can appoint as Cabinet ministers up to 80 MPs or a maximum of 15 per cent of the total membership of both Houses of Parliament. Your predecessors have habitually packed the government with a huge mantra population.
According to unofficial estimates, each one costs the taxpayer at least Rs 10 crore a year. Since you are a hands-on prime minister who singly generates ideas and rigorously monitors work, you were expected to ensure your promise was translated into reality. However, the ministerial herd is allowed to continue in spite of their inability or disinclination to deliver.
Some of the small ministries have two MOS under a cabinet minister. At one point, your council of ministers numbered 83. Numerous MoS enjoy perks without power. Some of your ministers are seen as NPAs led by an exceedingly productive prime minister. Why retain these burdens of indolence? Like your orders on bad bank loans, exile your non-performing colleagues to IBM (Indian Bankruptcy Mechanism) land.
Shrink the bureaucracy. The size of babudom sets the speed of governance. The more the number of officers, there will be more speed breakers in decision-making. Instead of reducing and rationalising the bureaucracy at the top levels, governments have created myriad sinecures for retired mandarins. You must reduce the number of secretaries from 150 to 50. For the past decade, babus have created over 200 post-retirement perches. They do little except randomly push files around.
Manmohan Singh appointed over two dozen academics and corporates to head various commissions, gifting them Cabinet status. Most of them continued to nurture the business interests of companies in the very sector they had previously served. Instead of demolishing these cosy lounges of reincarnated officialdom, your government has created more avenues for babus and extended the tenures of some others. The Central expenditure on babudom is now 25 per cent higher than before 2014.
Support a market-led economy with minimum government role. Your original karmabhumi of Gujarat was a successful model where markets shared a symbiotic role with the government. You must tax the rich by increasing the price of luxury cars, SUVs, private aircraft and import of luxury items, and use the money to provide affordable and safe public transport.
Economic policies should create capital for the nation and not just for capitalists. Government data suggests that capital formation in the rural and urban economy is below expectations. The real estate sector is almost in the ICU. The manufacturing sector is growing at less than one per cent annually, and agrarian stress is escalating. Massive NPAs and inherited bank frauds have paralysed the informal economy, even though India’s ranking in ease of doing business has improved.
Reform the education sector to boost citizens’ pride: You have sanctioned and started many new IITs, IIMs and AIIMSs. But these elitist and expensive institutions will not produce responsible and nationalist citizens. They will be clones of MIT and Harvard. Indian basic education is starved of funds, talent, skills and a healthy curriculum. Even after 75 years of Independence, our millennials have little connect with national pride. You need to invest more in primary education. Education isn’t a business for profit. It should be a mission for New India.
Resolve the Kashmir imbroglio. Since half of the J&K MPs are from the BJP, which also held a major share in the state government for a few months, you had the opportunity to bring the state on a par with the rest of the country. Instead, the BJP’s misadventures harmed the party’s credibility and plunged the state into a deeper abyss than it was in 2014. You dependence on the Lutyens luminaries to restore normalcy in Kashmir has betrayed you. The number of security personnel and civilians who have lost their lives in the recent past is more than before.
Create 60 more smart cities to save existing metros from congestion and decay. Your idea was to create 100 smart cities. Yet, after over four years, not one has come up. Barring the installation of Wi-Fi and LED bulbs, most cities are still filthy— if not worse than before. The desk jockeys in government have used up the allotted funds but haven’t improved the ambience and air quality of cities identified by the Centre. Life in almost every metro is miserable.
The next generation faces a health crisis that will hobble the progressive nation you promised. Your concept of a Smart City has been reduced to adding a few stainless steel benches in Connaught Place, New Delhi and laying Internet cables. Swachh Bharat funds are spent mostly on constructing fancy toilets near shopping malls and luxury markets or splurged on sprucing up roads along which there are no offices.
I have seen your ingeniously innovative ‘TeamModi-300 for 2019’ calendar, which lists the plethora of government schemes launched every month since 2014—an impressive report card of governance and goodwill. As a victim of perverse perspicacity and provocative persecution since 2002, you have to win the battle of perception all over again this year.
Though the opposition has no credible alternative leader in sight yet, you will have to rediscover yourself. The soil of the country is imprinted with your footsteps from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Your every visit is resonant with hope that recalls the 1957 Macmillan maxim of ‘You’ve Never Had It So Good.' Modi 2.0 will need a new slogan for 2019—one better than the Acche Din. Right now, the din of revisionary rhetoric is drowning the oration of your vision.