To truly win the respect and trust of the people, the Indian government should focus on three issues.
The recent legislative electoral wins for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are partly a verdict on its policies of the past three years and partly due to anti-incumbency factors working in its favor. Electoral politics in India is perhaps the most complicated in the world. With no major legislative elections till 2019, albeit one state, the government should step on the pedal and take advantage of this two-year window to implement some path breaking if not big bang reforms. Many issues require attention, but there are three that will have far-reaching impact and give a strong visceral feeling of progress to its citizenry.
First, the legal system is the elephant in the room. People have suffered the painfully slow system for decades. The court visits and expenses break their spirit and turn their hair gray. This broken system is the biggest and most urgent crisis in India, and no political party has really taken a serious look at this problem and offered any comprehensive solution. This is because of two reasons. It suits parties to have a lethargic system since political parties increasingly have criminal elements in their fold with ongoing cases. And an exponential rise of cases as a result of the population explosion, combined with an outdated system of procedures and processes. This problem impedes private corporate sector progress too, with foreign investors often citing this as a major reason for not investing in India. The government, along with the judiciary, must come up with creative ideas.
Second, on the economic front, Prime Minister Narendra Modi fought the 2014 general election on the promise of minimum government. Not much has moved on that front. While the debate on more vs less government is an ideological one and there are pros and cons to both, there are certain areas where, as Margaret Thatcher put it, “the government has no business being in business.” Hotels, airlines and certain non-strategic manufacturing sectors need to see a swift government exit. Unfortunately, the Indian bureaucracy is especially status quoist and unimaginative. Abysmal performance and boundless corruption thrives in these sectors.
Courtesy of low oil prices, the government has enjoyed a long leash on the fiscal space front and has felt no urgent need to push the privatization program for revenue shortfall. Nonetheless, the government must implement the program for the sake of getting rid of inefficiencies. It should reenter this space with renewed enthusiasm and determination. The resources from privatization should be utilized in health care, education and modernizing armed and police forces. Privatization is a very sensitive topic since it involves restructuring and dealing with powerful unions, but the next two years provide enough legroom to implement a decisive program. Not share sale, which is a privatization-lite approach, but shutting down inefficient programs and units and the sale of profitable ones.
Third, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign) is well intentioned but perhaps lacks innovative thinking. It’s not an easy problem to tackle because of behavioral and cultural issues in India. The country remains as dirty as it was three years ago. African nations have tackled this problem in a better fashion. Big cities all over the world like London, Toronto and Paris have successful programs where garbage collection and maintaining the city furniture is completely in private hands. The private company is given a return and also the right to use the refuse to generate electricity outside the city as an added incentive.
In India, these responsibilities are with the municipalities, which are rapaciously corrupt and not incentivized at all. The issue requires courage and political will because the municipalities in India are tiny political party fiefdoms and a source of revenue through corruption. This is a state issue, but the center can start with some guiding principles for states to follow. Something new and brave has to be done about this issue.
These are just three issues but perhaps the most important ones. The BJP might get reelected even if it doesn’t do much in the next two years because of a weak, unmotivated opposition, and caste and religious-related political machinations. But if the government truly wants to win the respect and trust of the people across the spectrum of urban and rural, it must do something about these issues. The resolution will have a trickle down or push up effect on other sectors, too, like infrastructure and foreign investment, which are pet projects of Modi. Failing which, we just stumble along in the crowded flea market of perpetual easy going achievers.
*[This article was updated on April 16, 2017.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Photo Credit: Narendra Modi