The import of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's sharp warning to top babus — virtually amounting to a 'perform or perish' mantra at multi-purpose and multi-modal platforms for proactive governance and time implementation (PRAGATI) — is not limited to bureaucracy, but it concerns equally to political leadership in his government, as also to the ruling BJP.
In past 24 hours, two other things also happened — a review meeting of the Council of Ministers and the unfolding of the smart cities plan. All this was aimed at a singular focal point: The government's performance must be seen on the ground in whatever possible form and content. Smart cities was an idea that Modi had publicly discussed in the run up to the parliamentary elections and thereafter, its progress had showed only on paper. By naming the first lot of 20 smart cities spread across the country, the Modi government on Thursday has tried to convey that it is delivering on its promises.
By now it is clear to the leadership in the ruling BJP that with a virtually paralysed Parliament due to the Congress' "negative" politics and the Rajya Sabha's numbers game, the Modi government cannot get the legislative backup for the reform measures they want to pursue and other legislations to smooth the functioning of government and delivery of popular goods, it will have to function, despite having an overwhelming majority in the Lok Sabha, with certain limitations for the better part of its term.
The significance of Modi's meeting with top bureaucrats and his entire council of ministers was not lost on those concerned.
After all it is unusual for the prime minister to hold a meeting with the entire Council of Ministers. The prime minister surely meets his Cabinet ministers regularly at meetings or otherwise, but the ministers of state generally don't get a chance to sit at the high table. This meeting was to send a clear message that everyone has a role to perform and there couldn't be any excuses. The MPs are also to be involved in their programme for wider public outreach and to get feedbacks.
Modi now plans to hold such extended meetings with teams of ministers on the fourth Wednesday of every month.
It is clear that the ministers would not be called just to have tea or dinner but will have to come prepared to respond to any query relating to their work within and outside of government. For the ministers — Cabinet or ministers of state including independent charge — it's time they pull up their socks and make tangible and faster delivery.
After one-and-a-half years in office, there is a growing realisation in the political leadership of the government that there remained an acute mismatch between the policies conceived and their delivery. The government machinery is not moving at the speed Modi would want and several of the schemes announced by him and promises made by him are not visible on the ground — at least the way he had visualised them.
The side-effects of this burden of expectations on Modi government has amply been shown in the results of the Bihar Assembly election and also in some of the by-polls and civic body polls that have lately taken place in various parts of the country. The Centre therefore needs to expedite its action and get into faster delivery mode through substantive executive action.
The word is already out, (though nobody has a real idea as to when it will happen) that non-performing ministers will be dropped, ministries shuffled, some ministers will be sent to organisational work and new talent will be inducted.
All as per their ability or lack thereof.
The review is said to be already underway. The carrot and stick is dangling. It remains to be seen who gets what and when that happens.