Two seemingly unrelated events are clear indicators of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s determined attempt to break the existing silos in India’s governance structure.
On 26 August, the Niti Aayog drew up a list of 1400-odd government servants and initiated a lecture series known as “transforming India”.
The Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, inaugurated the series at New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan in which PM Modi, along with his cabinet colleagues and officials to the level of director in the government of India, were attendees.
After Modi’s introductory speech, the stage was left for the guest to wax eloquent over India’s handicaps and the expectations of the world on the country. Modi, along with his entire cabinet and top policy makers, were patient listeners.
Those who attended the lecture were quite impressed, not only by the outstanding exposition of Shanmugaratnam but also by his profound understanding of India’s social and economic complexities.
For instance, Shanmugaratnam pointed out that India had been expending its energy more on over-regulation and less on building a stronger society. He took cues from Modi’s speech, who emphasised that a strong society was a sine qua non for a strong country.
But what was particularly interesting in the lecture was that Modi requested the guest to not hold back on his punches while making critical references to India’s policies. Shanmugaratnam did exactly that; in a friendly atmosphere with 1400-odd top policy makers of the country, listening attentively in the spirit of learning.
Impressed by the experience, the prime minister directed the Niti Aayog to organise at least four such lectures in a year, to expose the Indian policy honchos to outsiders’ perspective on India.
“It was a unique experience to see the prime minister sitting with everyone, like a student in the session,” said one of the participants.
Only a day after India’s top political executives, along with the bureaucrats, learnt a lesson or two about globalisation and its benefits, Modi addressed a meeting of chief ministers of the BJP-ruled states on 27 August, and encouraged them to share the best practices initiated by each of the governments.
Curiously enough, Haryana Chief Minister ML Khattar and his officials gave a PowerPoint presentation on the institutionalised mechanisms established by the state's government for the transfers of teachers. The presentation won the adulation of the prime minister, as he was well aware of the rampant corruption involved in the transfer of teachers in Haryana.
Khattar later revealed that he had borrowed the idea from Gujarat, where former Chief Minister Anandiben Patel had put in place a system, allowing senior most teachers to choose their place of posting.
“This has drastically reduced the complaints of corruption and curbed the discretionary powers of the bureaucracy,” said one of the officials, who had made the presentation for the state government.
Similarly, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh also gave presentations about the best governance practices that they had innovated. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, came out with a detailed presentation about his government’s plan for doubling the income of farmers in the state by 2022 – a promise that the union government had made in its budget.
In the one-on-one meetings with the CMs, Modi pointed out that such an exercise would not only help share the best practices of governance on a wider scale, but would also give innovative ideas to the chief ministers to devise effective methods of governance.
Those working closely with Modi admit that the prime minister had all along been insistent that the ministries should avoid the tendency to work in silos. That is the precise reason why Modi has been holding meetings with secretaries of the government on a regular basis – to monitor the pending projects and confront the officials if they were responsible for holding up projects.
With monthly meetings, Modi has also been in touch with chief secretaries – through video-conferencing – to remove irritants between the Centre and the states, and expedite development projects.
Source in the government point out that of late, the government has roped in several experts into various ministries in order to inculcate an efficient work culture in governance. Apparently, these experts have been playing critical roles in running highly technical ministries like power, surface transport and railways – by introducing a new culture of efficiency and transparency, and by orienting the bureaucracy to adapt to a new style.
In the Niti Aayog, nearly 40-odd graduates – passed out freshly from prestigious institutes all over the country – have been inducted to formulate a long-term economic perspective for the country, and to assess the impact of the government's policies.
The inaugural session of the “transforming India lecture” – by Singapore Deputy Prime Minister, to address India’s top echelons – is being seen as Modi’s attempt to gradually unclutter the bureaucracy and to orient them along the best practices of governance on the international level.
On a political level, he is goading the BJP-ruled states to learn from the best practices from other states. Though the initiative is still at an incipient stage, it is nevertheless regarded as a positive step for evolving a coherent and effective development plan for the country.