Prime minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day Speech from the ramparts of Red Fort on Monday morning has been analysed threadbare to know what his words meant or not meant. A precise 77 words the PM uttered on on how people from Balochistan, Gilgit and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir thanked him (Modi didn’t specify why, but the reason is obvious) were shown as portents of a big tactical shift in India’s foreign policy on the Baloch issue. Praises for finally shedding the kid gloves and strong words of caution followed.
Modi’s claims on the NDA government’s achievements in the last two years too were subjected to closer scrutiny. The accuracy of the data in his speech was looked at with suspicion. Some of the questions are: Whether India has indeed emerged as the world’s most preferred foreign direct investment (FDI) destination, as Modi claimed, or is it still at the tenth? Did solar energy grow 116 percent in one year or was it 95 percent? Did the government give 5 million new LPG connections under the Ujjwala scheme or only 1.7 million?
There isn’t an iota of doubt on why the PM should be more careful while using numbers in public speeches (else he risks serious trust deficit), but the point to note here is small variances in figures shouldn’t worry one too much as long as there is visible progress.
But, where one should really thank PM Modi is for not announcing yet another set of new fancy schemes or more ambitious targets embellished with catchy phrases. Modi has done enough of that in his previous two I-Day speeches (and of course on other occasions too). We have several ‘Modi schemes’ such as Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, Make in India, Mudra Yojana, Skill India, Start Up India Stand-Up India, Digital India, Swachh Bharat missions and a few other varieties of Yojanas and missions.
But post the grand launch, the actual progress of many of these schemes is still a matter of debate.
True, Jan Dhan accounts have crossed 22 crores and it’s a big step in direct benefit transfer promotion. But, how many of these accounts have generated fresh savings (discounting duplicate accounts and zero balance accounts), has the Make in India meaningfully contributed to job creation so far, how much the much-hyped Start-up India has helped Indian startups, what real changes the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has brought in are all questions that beg answers.
The point here is as the NDA government enters the crucial second half of its five-year term, more time should be devoted to implement the already announced schemes than announcing new ones. The PM has done well for doing so. Remember, China never launched a Make in China campaign 20 years back, they quietly started a manufacturing revolution, so are many developed countries.
On the reforms front too, lot of work is left to do. The passage of crucial Goods and Services Tax (GST) amendment and clearances of a slew of Bills, some of them incremental steps, such as bankruptcy code, coal, insurance, real estate and subsidy are only the beginning of a long journey. There is an urgent need to focus on implementation on all these fronts to make meaningful progress.
This is something experts have highlighted in the past - mainly on land and labor reforms. “Modi has to focus on relentlessly implementing what has been initiated so far,” said DK Joshi, chief economist at Crisil, Indian subsidiary of global rating agency, Standard and Poor’s, last week.
One could argue that the Centre has passed the onus on land reforms to states, but can’t shed the responsibility of pursuing this crucial reform part, since making land available to industries is fundamental for any industrial development and inward investment flow.
There is an urgent need to overhaul the labour laws as well. In his last Independence Day speech, Modi spoke of the government’s intention to club 44 labour laws into four codes to simplify them. Besides that, ever since he took charge, the PM, his colleagues and top executives have spoken of a complete overhaul of the country’s complex and archaic labour laws. However, not much progress has been made so far on the riskier part of it (except certain popular changes such as assuring longer maternity leave to women workers).
As Firstpost highlighted in an earlier article, Modi, who endorsed labour reforms in his earlier avatar as Gujarat chief minister, hasn’t managed to overhaul the complex labor laws. Almost two-third of Indian workers aren’t protected by any laws and are outside the organised structure. The Modi government has to address the issue to deal with the emerging workforce and improve ease of doing business by negotiating with the country’s powerful trade unions, including the right wing unions.
As of now, except Rajasthan, no state can claim meaningful progress on the labour laws. One case in hand is the lack of progress on the Industrial Relations Bill that wasn’t taken up even in the just concluded monsoon session. Passage of this would have enabled easier hire and fire policies for smaller firms, creating efficiency.
Implementation remains key to lift the spirits of the Indian economy too as country’s outgoing ‘rock star’ central banker Raghuram Rajan stressed in an interview given to Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald early this year.
When Rajan was asked to nominate the three things that most need to change to make a difference to the Indian economy, he said, "Implementation, implementation, and implementation". "The gap in India has always been between the promise and the execution," the governor said.
This applies to not just reforms but all key government schemes. In this context, one should thank PM Modi seemingly breaking from the past in his I-day speech. Modi’s time is running out as the next year will be busy with state elections and the year after that with preparation for the grand fight in 2019. The government will do well to focus hard on the implementation of the previously announced schemes and make people feel their outcomes at the earliest. PM Modi has plenty on his plate already.