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Reshuffle kerfuffle: India needs results

The defining characteristic of the Modi Model of politics is the element of surprise, predictable unpredictability!

Published: 04th July 2021 06:35 AM  |   Last Updated: 04th July 2021 06:35 AM   |  A+A-

Parliament House, Lok Sabha

The current architecture of the government is a confounding coalition of conflicting layers. (File Photo | PTI)

The national capital is abuzz. The nine-letter verb, a palpable presence in casual and formal settings, has triggered a commotion of speculation and punditry, a kind of political kerfuffle if you please. The question ‘what are you hearing on the reshuffle’ is aired even though those who ask know that nobody quite knows.

The defining characteristic of the Modi Model of politics is the element of surprise, predictable unpredictability! Indeed, public appraisals of ministerial performance within the party and private communions of hopefuls are enveloped by caveats of if and when. The use of the adjective ‘impending’ and the event itself hang between probability and political possibility.

Quintessentially, a reshuffle of the council of ministers is defined by expediency — accommodation of personal aspirations and party’s ambitions. The fact that portfolios and privilege are vested with a few even as many wait to be rewarded for their devotion has been a cause of quiet angst. At the institutional level, there is the imperative to expand affiliation and signal promise in the run-up to state polls of 2022.

Expediency is propelled by expectations. And the expectation of electoral dividends demands transition beyond messaging. Political and public discourse has largely and typically hovered around the ‘knowwho’ factor. What is of material import to a young impatient electorate is translation of declared intent into visible outcomes. This calls for a review of the architecture of the council and enhanced focus on know-what and know-how factors.

The reshuffle is an opportunity to induct focus on key sectors critical to ensure equity and install efficiency. The idea should be to induct champions for the cause — think green revolution, think Aadhaar — bring in a group of younger politicians who have a stake in the future, and wherever possible induct technocrats, to leverage the political heft of the party in the Centre and in the states it rules to create a demonstration effect.

Minister for Wellness: The pandemic has exposed the pathetic state of public health care systems. The Modi government in 2017-18 had announced the upgrade of primary and community health centres and the creation of 1.5 lakh wellness centres. How about inducting a minister to implement this, to be the bridge between the Centre and states, to design a public private partnership for expansion of both human and physical infrastructure for the rural and urban poor?

Minister for E-Governance: The landscape of e-governance is located between slogans and fund-starved programmes. The lockdown has proved e-governance is possible and is acceptable. India has the opportunity to bridge the gap between service and delivery by inducting a professional to install a functional e-governance programme for the future.

Minister for Privatisation: The current state of public finance is an impediment to the installation of a low-cost, highgrowth economy and to the aspiration of a $5 trillion GDP. This column has argued that it is not enough to set targets for disinvestment. It has argued India needs a minister for privatisation (https://bit.ly/27PSU) to make this happen. The success at the Centre will hopefully inspire a clean-up in the states.

Minister for Climate Tech: India’s migration to a climate friendly landscape needs urgent attention. Over 180 companies across the globe have signed on a pledge. Over $ 70 trillion of global savings is now affiliated to the new ESG — Environment Social Governance — template. Typically, almost every ministry — in Centre and the states — has a laundry list of initiatives which are aired every year on some milestone occasion. How about aggregating all citizen centric initiatives such as rooftop solar, e-buses and implement best practices under one minister?

Minister for Legal Reforms: India’s statute books are chocka- block with archaic laws which impede investment, job creation and growth. These laws are often used as instruments of harassment. It is not enough to create new codes and leave it to the states. There is an urgent need to identify and abolish archaic laws in a time-bound manner. To enable this, the government needs to carve out the responsibility to a minister — perhaps create a council of state ministers — with a time-bound target for achieving this.

The current architecture of the government is a confounding coalition of conflicting layers. The government of India directory lists 50 ministries and 60+2 departments —besides 27 commissions and committees, 289 PSUs/companies, 176 subordinate offices, 555 statutory/autonomous bodies, 613 academies/ institutions and more.

Three decades after reforms, India persists with ministries for coal, steel, aviation and textiles. The ministries with the largest expenditure budgets are those managing issues which are essentially state subjects. To appreciate the state of chaos, view the architecture through the prism of pressing problems. Water is a silent and serious crisis across India. Its management is governed by over six ministries and then across 30 states.

This must change but India cannot wait for a consensus. The reshuffle offers an opportunity to induct innovation in governance and result orientation.

Shankkar Aiyar
Author of The Gated Republic, Aadhaar: A Biometric History of India’s 12 Digit Revolution, and Accidental India
shankkar.aiyar@gmail.com



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