In good faith: Why PM Modi convinces us that he can walk the talk
Many UPA schemes were well-intentioned plans marred by execution in bad faith. From all his utterances it is clear that Modi has identified the trouble area and he is keen on going the extra mile to address it.
“Let’s act in good faith… If people are convinced that you are working for their benefit, then the nation will stand by you. It is important that they are not disappointed," Prime Minister Narendra Modi told party workers on Sunday. It sounds nice when a political leader talks of ‘good faith’ and appears earnest about it, specially after one’s experience with the five years of the UPA II government. The latter seemed to possess the magical ability to turn everything it touched into a scandal and even when it was sincere about something, it appeared to be acting in bad faith.
Given the multi-ministry character of several decisions to be taken, particularly in the area of investment, and the need for policy coherence and consensus in the government, GoMs and EGoMs were not a bad idea at all. But under the UPA government these became the means to evade responsibility and delay decision-making. When taking decisions becomes a collective responsibility, no one ends up being responsible. The dispensation under Modi has scrapped GoMs and has justified it well logically, but these will exist in some other form. It will be an act of good faith if the prime minister lends the inter-ministry consultative process a sense of purpose. It’s a good sign that Modi is prepared to do that.
The original idea behind the National Advisory Committee (NAC) was a laudable one. The country needed and, still needs, a mechanism for a prelegislative consultation process involving a wide range of views on issues of public import. It aimed at making the process of growth inclusive by providing a platform for the grievances of people left out in the economy to be heard. The Right to Information Act, empowering people with information, steered by it is a gigantic step in the evolution of the democracy.
Despite all the stated good intentions, in the end it was seen as cosy club of left wing thinkers acting as an extra-constitutional authority dictating terms to the government and demeaning the authority of the office of the prime minister in the process. Its inflexible orientation towards one segment of the population ended up alienating all others, including the middle and the entrepreneurial classes. It distorted the word ‘inclusive’ and made it, unwittingly, mean the same as ‘exclusive’. Modi’s campaign focused on this discrepancy directly.
When the earlier version of the UPA launched Special Economic Zones, it aimed at attracting investment and creating jobs through clusters of industrial hubs. In a country desperately looking for funds to accelerate the economy, it was never a bad idea. But soon the idea of SEZs turned into a real estate racket. The nexus of politicians, bureaucrats and corporate players began misusing the eminent domain provision in the Land Acquisition Act, 1897 to grab land from farmers. Protests started erupting everywhere in the country and soon SEZs were left on the back burner. The governments everywhere were acting in bad faith. If Modi restarts the SEZs to boost growth, he must ensure that the government is not perceived to be following a cynical path. By putting the onus on himself for every decision of the government, he is sending the right message.
The much-maligned Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is one of the best UPA legacies - even the BJP leaders accept that in private. The idea of a financial safety net in times of joblessness and uncertainty has found favour among all developed economies and it has become part of their economic policies. It can mitigate the intensity of social tension arising out of changes in the economy as it goes through the process of structural transition. But the UPA managed to make it look like a wasteful scheme serving no purpose through poor implementation. There were allegations of rampant embezzlement and misutilisation of funds under the scheme. Bogus entries deprived the targeted beneficiaries of their due and middlemen in cahoots with officials siphoned off money. The government remained oblivious to all this and allowed the public anger to fester. Again, it was acting in bad faith.
No policy comes with a stated bad intention. Most of them follow a long consultative process and are well thought out. The problem is in the execution and the right intent for it. From all his utterances it is clear that Modi has identified the trouble area and he is keen on going the extra mile to address it. In the matter of governance, good faith is finally what counts. If he wants to herald a complete break from the past, this is where he has to begin. He is yet to face any real challenges yet, but one must say he has a made a good beginning.
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