What BJP and Modi Government Should do now?

After the Delhi Debacle, there are several articles on what went wrong for the BJP and Modi Government.  In the article the focus is on what to do next, by looking at things holistically.

If you look back, the Government has done well with a proactive and pragmatic foreign policy and initiatives such as Jana Dhan, Make in India, Digital India and Swachcha Bharath. They have also made many good moves such as creation of Niti Aayog and promoting performance based culture. In general the Government has finished the year without any scams. There were also many activities got kick-started in reforms of banks, disinvestment as well as certain log-jams in Coal and Telecom were sorted out.  Overall there was good progress on policy formulation.  However a sense of superior accomplishment is missing say if you compare to “Gujarat Model”. There is probably nothing as dramatic to show-case.

While broadly there is positive perception about the performance of the Government in tackling corruption and pursuing a development agenda. In matters like black money Government came across more tentative than determined.  “Black Money” was a key promise. In general matters of Governance Government seemed to have embraced continuity or middle of the road position rather than radical change

In matters like Retrospective tax, Government position was practical, but the fact that companies tried to outwit the Government by doing an overseas transaction was not communicated forcefully enough leaving the nation taking more flak than it actually deserved. In summary, Government appears tentative and defensive, and at times unnecessarily abrupt and unpredictable.

Though no layman can take exception about promotion “Sanskrit” about exposing hypocrisy on conversions, people indoctrinated on a particular brand of secularism, will tend to over-interpret each and every move by the Government. As such, in cultural matters, Government came across as having adopted more radical position instead of the middle of the road position.

At least a section of enthusiasts of Government expected the Government to be radical in Governance matters and moderate in cultural matters.

So the question is what remains to be done and what needs to change?

1. Communication and Perception Management

PM has been fairly communicative using social media and connects directly with people. There are several other platforms such as MyGov.in to engage with people. Government also has given good publicity to the schemes and plans. Media also in general gives good coverage to Government Schemes. While this is good enough for core supporters and well wishers, it has not been adequate to retain and expand the constituency of positive opinion of 2014 May elections.

Some of the blockers have been lack of mechanism to respond to sensitive incidents which has led to blowing up of the incidents. However it may not make sense for PM to respond to each and every incident. We have also seen that even after a response from PM there is a determined pursuit to put the Government on the spot. This needs to be tackled by having a PMO Spokesperson (who is an administrator), media advisor or strategic advisor to the PM respond to intermittent events on behalf of the PMO. Currently even a statement by another important Minister is not seen to be enough.

In general, there has been call for greater transparency and greater media interaction. All this can be handled by adopting “State of India” address once in three months with a Press Conference, where selected set of Ministers along with PM can engage with the media and set the matters straight.  It is also important to report what has progressed and what has not in terms of legislation, execution and reforms including important laws/items that fall off the radar. To give an example on women’s security rape crisis centre which can be a single point solution to provide medical help was envisaged, it is not clear how far this has progressed. This will come to surface when next time media’s attention goes there. Thus providing opportunities for structured dialogue can remove the perception that Government is on the defensive and show that Government is positive and proactive.

While there is a good amount of communication from PM, there is not adequate outreach by MLAs and MPs. Many people have been voting for the party and they hardly have connection with MLA and MP.  MPs should be the key people to win elections for the party through their work and engagement even for Assembly.

Prasar Bharathi should be a platform so that every month or two MLAs and MPs share their plans and take questions from their constituents. This will also give an idea to citizens about MPs of other constituencies who are working better than their own. They also can get on the social media and share their plans and progress and maintain a direct connect with party workers and constituents. In many cities citizens have to fight their battle on bad roads, traffic delays and garbage on their own. Many MPs dismiss these issues as Municipality issues with disdain. A converged approach of communication through direct contact, meetings, radio, TV, web and social media needs to be adopted to retain the mind-share of the people.  Prasar Bharthi can be a catalyst of change instead of being a me-too channel whining about autonomy.

2. “Day in life of a Citizen” and “Achche Din”

It is to the credit of the Government that certain macro indicators such as inflation, current account deficit, currency volatility etc. are stabilized. The question remains whether the day to day experience of a citizen has changed after the new government has come in. There are two elements here – the day-to-day governance perceived by the citizen and ability to meet needs and aspirations of the people.

To borrow from a recent article by Pratap Bhanu Mehta in Indian Express,  Daniel Bell once said that the challenge of the modern state is that it is too big for the small problems in life and too small for the big problems in life. It has to articulate an idiom that addresses ordinary problems or ordinary people: petty corruption, electricity, water.

When it comes to day-to-day governance, urban governance is a mess across the country. Municipalities are corrupt and/or inefficient. Quality of work whether it is footpaths or roads is bad. Small things like a faulty signal may take a year to fix. It still takes a week to two weeks to open a bank account. Letters are not delivered by post offices on time. Train service is still limited, only through Tatkal you can get a ticket and facilities are nominal. As we have seen across the country, people still do not get timely response on women’s safety issues till it is too late. Despite Swachch Bharath, and increase in general awareness, urban agencies go about their work as before in a shoddy manner. There are too many accidents and getting justice is hard.

To get an idea of “The day in the life of citizen”, It may be a simple matter of trying out hundreds of periodic sting operations to see how a common citizen gets treated by different arms of government and other public entities. Government agencies and journalists from Prasar Bharathi themselves should take a lead here.

We may need directly elected Mayors, Quality-first culture on contracted work and nation-wide emergency numbers like “911” in the USA.. We may need to leverage MyGov to report complaints and recommendations which in turn may need to be forwarded to the right authorities.

People’s aspirations relate to access to quality education, health-care, employment and security including financial. Government has ceded the ground to private sector on education and health-care. Government may need to open large number of central schools in the lines of Kendriya Vidyalaya to expand access to affordable quality education. Government also needs to open vocational schools to provide greater social mobility to people as well as build a high quality skill pool. We also should inculcate a culture of pride in one’s work. Let us not forget that India has some of the finest sculptor and art work from yore. We also were once creators of knowledge and thought leaders; today we have become largely consumers. We may need to learn lessons from Germany and Japan on vocational training and USA on how to run the higher education system.

Initiatives like Swachch Bharath should be formalized to seed change in urban/rural bodies in addition to social out-reach. “Make in India” should involve proactive engagement of MHRD, Ministry of Science and Technology and Ministry of Industry to promote research, innovation and workmanship.

We need to exploit “Digital India” fully for much more transparent e-governance across the country.

Lot of initiatives like affordable housing have not kicked off well.  The Government needs to turn over the bureaucracy so that there is thrust on performance.

The Government needs to expand the rights regime from “Right to Information” , “Right to Employment”, “Right to Food”  further to include “Right to Timely Service”, “Right to Justice”, “Right to Justice at Work” “Right to Health” and “Right to Dignified Livelihood”. Government needs to expand its initiatives in health-care to boost the number of health-care centres, adopt partnerships with NGOs and trusts.  We may need to appoint “Chief Safety” officers, who are not limited by the department or agency they work for. Rights regime should be looked more as an enabler/facilitator  to contribute more to the nation than an entitlement or largesse.

It is also strange to see that you can get companies registered on fake addresses and proliferation of shell companies with “benami” directors whereas a common man gets visited by somebody even when he applies for a mobile connection to verify his address and finances.  The old situations should change. Due diligence should be done to weed out past malpractices.  Only then people feel businesses are not above the law. A onetime audit of all companies should be done to weed out fake companies and questionable directors. A permission to open the company may be given only when there is clarity of intent by putting costs on proliferation on subsidiaries and cross-holdings.

Also we had situations where influential people game our judicial system. Government should do all in its powers to change this situation. Aggressively act on wrong doings related to real estate scams and re-establish the rule of law with force of conviction than letting law lose its course.

In general Government needs to go all out to make lot of changes on the ground, so that people recognize that change is in the air and better times have come

3. Model of Governance and Reforms

The PM spoke of a “dream team” in one his campaigns.. But when the cabinet was actually formed, while there were many talented people, lot turned out to be newbie’s.  Also many talented people were kept out on one criteria or other. There was induction of talent in the cabinet expansion. But still the cabinet is more cohesive than talent-rich.  While loose “EGM” approach and approach of Ministers acting on their own is totally unacceptable, we may  need a visible delegation of authority so that 10-15 missions are led by Ministers with aggression and vigour, that too concurrently with good degree of co-ordination from PMO. The trade-off should be once again towards talent and experience than merely on cohesion. Even as far as bureaucrats go majority were retained from the past regime, which took some time to change. In summary, the promise of “Dream Team” needs to be kept.

The PM has promised “Maximum Governance and Minimal Government”. To start off the cabinet was small and later it has expanded. However there was lot of hope and expectation when similar idea was expressed in changeindia.com. Right now we have a bigger cabinet, which is fine. But more important is that we logically group the ministry based on similarity and inter-dependencies so that over course of time we have around 20 Ministries which may be lot more optimal to speed up decision making.  Natural synergies exist between say Information & Broadcasting and ICT, internal and External Security, Transportation Ministries and so on. The idea should be pursued  and a relook taken so that we have a structure with purpose.

Generally the Ministries take up specialist functions where as regional development is left to States. For Center to be able to deliver to States, we need a set of Ministers who are responsible for regional development. Around 5-6 Ministers can have responsibilities related to North, South, West, Central, East and North-East Regions. They can also work in collaboration with Niti Aayog, regional councils and serve as champions for their regions.

In general federalism should move towards, centre focusing primarily on issues that are macro in nature, issues that span across states, infrastructure issues and issues that have strategic importance. Majority of micro issues except few critical ones such as human rights and hunger should be left to states.  There should be flexibility for centre to take over specific functions such as security in a crisis, for the sake of seamless development and in cases of persistent under-performance or synergy and also flexibility for states to request autonomy on a central function.

The way legislature has functioned over the last 15 odd years has exposed some systemic problems. Lot of legislation does not come to light because of dysfunctional legislature.  While at one level we are an over-legislated country, there are lot of laws that take years and many more simply do not get attention. It is important to fire-wall the legislative time in Lok Sabha from time for general debate. May be both the houses start much earlier and the first half should be completely reserved for legislation where any disruption should mean immediate suspension of such members.  Whatever legislative agenda that is planned should be carried out smoothly. The rules of house should be strictly enforced to ensure decorum. More time should be given to debate laws without disruptions.

We need a new development model based on 4 D’s – Distribution, Disintermediation, Depth and Differentiation.  Here people and businesses are encouraged to scale up on innovation curve, artisans, farmers and producers get access to markets and finance as directly as possible. A distributed architecture means development that is spread across the country which virtual linkages than physical co-location using less natural resources. We need a development model that is technology driven, connected and modern.  We have to restore the pride in ourselves as to our ability to deep stuff very well.  This may require sound vocational training and a culture that values quality and does not accept mediocrity. In addition to the current “Jan Dhan”, we need a method to transact between people and businesses in a trusted and transparent manner much more easily than current modes. Technologies like 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing allow “precision manufacturing” as well as custom manufacturing. They may be more compatible with a distributed growth pattern. The new model should co-exist with the current model. Even energy generation in particular solar, growing vegetables and fruits, textiles all can benefit from a distributed development model which allows home based employment vis-a-vis soul-less factories.

We need a Common Economic Model that provides a level playing field for domestic businesses, foreign MNCs, Government/Public Sector entities and Co-operative/Social Entrepreneurs. Such a market place should be based on spirit of competition which makes space for small players as a part of their eco-system. If we look at the successes in our country, we can quote Telecom as one Sector that has benefitted from such a model and benefitted all sections of the society. IT is another sector that has generated huge employment by opening up the sector for foreign MNCs and embracing global competition. This model needs to be replicated for other sectors such as Roads, Power and many others with good degree of regulation. There is a need to move away from Contract-Kickback culture to Quality First culture. In Quality First – desired quality and expected budget is fixed but a supplier who matches the criteria best is selected than one who quotes the least. Public Sector can also provide direct and durable employment competing with private players. A degree of regulation, social audits, RTI  and CAG audits should be applied to all the mega-deals. The model can be applied by scaling up public sector units such as “Safal” for even areas like food distribution. In general the role of departments (“DoT”, “FCI”, etc.) will be reduced and relegated to different players including public. Once a common model is defined it should be applied to sector after sector. Foreign  articipation should be allowed 100% unless there is a reason not to do so. Indian companies are capable of coming up with new business models that serve local markets better. Government Departments should be facilitators and catalysts than direct participants. Much talked about holding company model for public sector may be evaluated to target the capital and human resources in a more productive manner as well as to seek greater investments.

“Make in India” should define priority areas so that we become world-class in areas that either provide profits, employment or Strategic Advantage. New IITs should have specific charter may it be Energy, Chemicals and Materials, Electronics & Defence, Roads, Medical Technology etc. Instead of current model of all institutes trying to do everything we may build critical capacity in selected places so that they become the “go to” place to provide solutions pertaining to their charter.

There is also a debate whether we should “Make for India” or “Make in India”. It is an unnecessary debate. It does not matter where we start. We have sectors like where we used “Make in India for the world” model and slowly graduating to “Make for India”. In sectors like automotive India was more of a market to start with and manufacturing is moving to India. The key point however is how can we be more competitive and innovative and have core capabilities. Any kind of economic activity should be seen as beneficial.

We need a better model to manage welfare, distress and loss of life. Poor cannot buy homes or consumer durables due to lack of access to loans. Farmers end up taking undue risks as they do not have access to a business environment that reduces their risk. We badly need with new business models here. Suicides are not acceptable. Similarly our policemen and soldiers should not lose their lives any more than the ones in western countries who have access to better protection.  People also lose lives in unavoidable accidents. We need an integrated safety and security model along with an appropriate welfare/empowerment model.  On one hand new business models should limit risk of farmers, new way of policing and fighting should protect our police and soldiers, and innovation in welfare delivery can address broader issues.  Instead of multiple subsidies a flexible welfare delivery scheme can allow citizen to use the subsidy for the welfare of his choice. We also should get away from the regime of MSPs by opening up the market space so that in general farmers get better prices.

We also should come up with an Urban Governance model that scales up-to the challenges faced by modern cities. Here is a big lesson from Delhi debacle. People in other cities are eager to see change on the ground.

Taking care of elderly, unemployed, women and children should be thought through and concrete initiatives be spelt out.  Need to relook at the current system of quotas and appointments and focus should be more on economic backwardness than just on quotas after quotas. Slowly those who have already made it to the creamier sections should be excluded from quotas.

Need strong initiatives on Judicial Reforms, Police Reforms and Electoral Reforms. Police in each state especially in cities should be cosmopolitan.  NCTC should be relooked at as an alternative. The judicial processes should be reengineered by comparing with US and UK systems. Police Reforms have been talked about but not enough has been done. Lateral entry should be provided to ex-Military people in the police force. Common training can be thought of or Police Academies on the same lines as NDA can be created if none exist now.  Electoral reforms may look at limits on the number times same candidate represents a constituency, mode of electoral funding, promotion of internal democracy and at least six months membership in a party before somebody contests may also be looked at.

Management of resources such as land and other natural resources can be audited to plug any revenue losses as well as misuse of land. To the extent possible discretionary changes in land use may be avoided. A model for management of natural resources and revenue capture can be looked at.

Government can also look at instead of collecting income tax from people; give them greater flexibility to save proportion of their income as long term savings. The Government can utilize these funds for the development of nation and creation of assets, instead of high cost debt.

  1. From “Sangh Parivar” to “Parivar India”

Government is frequently attacked for its association with “Sangh Parivar”.  Government should use the Parivar as strength by influencing these organizations to adopt a constructive and positive agenda and seek a middle ground which is in tune with the general mood. RSS can play a greater role in access to education, health and social audits. VHP can play a greater role in making Hinduism open and progressive to the extent that people from other religions should naturally feel attracted to Hinduism. Similar strategies can be adopted by student, farmer and worker organizations that are in sync with the party and government agenda. This may mean staying away from controversial issues which does not do anybody any good. Any support to anti-modern, anti-liberal ethos will mean disaffection of the youth.

In addition BJP should take on board think-tanks, influential individuals, NGOs, and social entrepreneurs as partners in the development movement and make “Parivar India”

  1. Getting the “Mojo” back.

In spite of all the above Government needs to provide compelling value proposition on the ground. Gujarat model was appreciated for 24*7 powers, use of solar energy in an innovative manner on Narmada River, better business environment and a “can do”, “will do” attitude. The social indicators are also better in some states compared to others.

The million dollar question is will something similar or more happen at the national level.

  •   . Complete re-planning and redevelopment of Government Owned land into smart cities and usable assets across India is one visible change. Lot of land is given in lease but not necessarily used for that purpose. Lot of land is used rather inefficiently and not productively. A planned and meaningful development along with asset monetization can be a visible change.
  • General ambience, look and feel of Government Offices is dull and drab, There are all sorts of people floating in and out without any track of visitors. Giving them a smart orientation can make them serve people better.
  • In general quite a lot of facilities should be available through e-governance, but the processes say in getting a passport seem very complex and not adequately re-engineered.
  • Post Offices should be significantly modernized. They are already on the way to become banks. Can they take on value-added services by launching an e-commerce arm that provides seamless delivery of not only goods but also payments to registered small businesses and customers.
  • India One Centers, which help common people and tourists about interfacing with the Government, provide general information and provide common utilities across the country. . They can also help make the interface with the Government, smoother. They can be an alternate point of contact say police do not respond, in case of accidents and to provide minimal legal assistance to common people.
  • Scaling up Kendriya Vidyalayas – Kendriya Vidyalayas have succeed with well regarded curriculum resulting in lot of schools going for CBSE syllabus. We need to modify the curriculum to give space for local language and culture, along with Sanskrit as a way to expose students to ancient Indian culture. A model curriculum can be defined which maintains high quality irrespective of the medium of instruction.
  • Scaling up Scholarship Schemes like National Talent Search. Currently both the numbers who appear for the examination as well as the number of scholarships is far and few. We can scale up these scholarships very significantly.
  • Right now there is excessive focus on Engineering and 12th Standard performance may it be in regular examinations and competitive tests. Tests like JEE Main can be made more broad-based to cover disciplines including Social Sciences, along with analytical reasoning, comprehension. Institutions of excellence may be opened in Social and Development Sciences to set high benchmarks.
  • Opening up large number of vocational schools and co-locate them along with industry and engineering institutions.
  • Using payment banks as an infrastructure for small financial transactions for sale of service and goods.
  • Driving banking from any bank initiative among public sector banks or group of banks subject to security safe-guards. This can act as a force multiplier by providing proximate access to any bank.
  • Clearing the log-jam of courts making them efficient. Having a dispute redressal mechanism so that most Government related litigations are handled within the Government through mediation. Reduce the number of appeals and the number of courts involved in a given case. Certain cases may start directly from high court. Overall optimize justice delivery and limit the number of concurrent cases per judge. Focus on closure than activitiy.
  • Optimizing the number of regulators and commissions to fewer and stronger.
  • Provide interface to people to approach the Government to solve issues that pertain to executive instead of rushing with PIL to courts.
  • Hand-in-hand with “Clean India” initiative also launch “Safe India” initiative. Today rules are openly flouted and police focus more on collecting fines who are easy to catch than look at safety as their responsibility. The owners of transport vehicles should be held accountable for errors of their employees. There is no smooth process in case of accidents to settle disputes. This leads at times to more violence and inordinate delays.
  • Reduce the cost of elections; promote any booth voting, postal voting and e-voting to ensure 100% voting.
  • Give greater say to tax payers by allotting certain representatives in Raya Sabha.
  • Manage Roads and Urban Infrastructure using sectoral approach as in Telecom. Let one Service Provider be responsible for a large area whether it contains high-ways, towns and village roads, so that users get seamless high quality experience. Provide call centers and SMS/Tweet facility to report problems. Use quality-first approach of Common Economic Model. Let well-reputed prime contractor be responsible for quality and service for 5 years or so, without needing tendering for every small repair.
  • Provide seamless transport connectivity between trains, airways and road-ways.
  • Totally reinvent railways, using the inputs from committees and people.
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