The government of prime minister Modi completed one year this week. He and his ministers have repeated a phrase over the past one year—ease of doing business in India. What does it mean in real socio-economic and political terms?
The underlying message of that phrase is that, in the past, it had not been “easy” to do business in India… neither for Indian entrepreneurs nor for the international players. Why?
It would be interesting to understand the meaning and dynamics of doing business in India with “ease”. With time, the tangible problems of availability of land, water, electricity and even resolving convoluted labour laws can be handled by a well-meaning government. It is the intangible that may take much longer to resolve.
What is this intangible? Every single law and the legislation that India inherited from the British rulers were designed to keep a control over anything and everything that happened in the country. On top of the pyramid of that system of “control” was the will and benefit of the British rulers…Indians working in the government were merely implementing with diligence without fear or favour.
After Independence, only the ruler changed. The rules and regulations remained the same, so did the Indians working for the government. The new government, with overwhelming majority in Parliament, enjoyed the power of discretion and the power of “control” for the “benefit of the ruler” continued. With independence from the British, the fear disappeared but the “favour” continued.
Nearly seven decades later, it may be a long haul for the Modi government to dispel the concepts of “control”, “discretion” and “favour” from the mindset of those working within the government.
Untangling the cobweb of rules, regulations and legislation may be difficult but it would still be possible…it would be very difficult for the Modi government to make the people within the government change their attitude and become accommodative, receptive and helpful to the people.
What has the Modi government done in one year is not the question for now. What has the government undone is the question…? However, the electorate that voted Modi to power with such a massive mandate may not have the patience to wait forever to see the results on the ground…neither those entrepreneurs who hope for an “easier” way to do business in India of Modi.
It is this intangible, the mindset of the people within the government, that would have to be changed more quickly than rules and regulations. As prime minister Modi has reiterated on several occasions, the mantra for successful governance can only be “accountability and transparency”…he will have to press for this if he really means business. He may have to add “accessibility” to this mantra.
It may sound absurd, but the “titles” within the bureaucracy, inherited from the British, may have to be changed forthwith. A “director general” can simply be called a “director”.
Perhaps it is this word used in the designations that makes some bureaucrats behave in a certain way that is arrogant and obnoxious…it must certainly be retained within the realms of armed forces where the “generals” really lead from the front. However, it is natural, not only for the bureaucracy but for anyone else who has an assured monthly salary, perks, promotions and then pension for the entire retired life to get into a rut and become conceited.
While transparency in governance is possible through information and communications technology to an extent, it is accountability that is somewhat difficult to achieve unless the timelines are well-defined and monitored down the line on a day-to-day basis.
Whatever may be the case, to create a conducive environment for doing business in India, the government will have to carry the bureaucracy along.
Though some regional parties are joining forces to present a united opposition to prime minister Modi, like the Congress, they too are short of a clear focus. Hatred against him as a person alone may not take them very far.
With time, more skeletons are likely to tumble out of the closet. More and more retired senior bureaucrats will write books and memoirs. This may further embarrass an already angry Congress party.
Prime minister Modi isn’t likely to spend much time on engaging in street fights…he is hurtling fast towards his goals…after all he has to prepare for 2019 elections. That would be the time when he himself will be accountable to the people who voted him to power.