Politics can’t triumph over nation-building
Inclusion. Right from the absence of the mandatory bullet-proof shield which removed an important psychological boundary between the prime minister and the people to the statement about how the government would run on the basis of a consensus, not its majority, Narendra Modi’s maiden address at the Red Fort was all about inclusion. While there will be many who argue the praise for the Opposition was borne out of necessity, given the embarrassment over the insurance Bill, there was enough in the speech to suggest this wasn’t mere tokenism. So, while Modi reiterated his theme about the PM-CM partnership that was vital if India was to move ahead, Rajasthan has shown just how this works—it amended certain vital labour laws while the Centre hasn’t and its Bhamashah financial inclusion programme openly talks of all government dole being channelised electronically, once again while the Centre is yet to openly announce this. The Pradhanmantri Jan Dhan Yojana will foster inclusion by opening two bank accounts per unbanked family—just a little over 40% of India’s villages have even banking correspondent networks—but it will remain on paper unless there is a regular flow of funds into the accounts, and that will happen only when the R3 lakh crore the government spends annually on subsidies starts flowing through these bank accounts since that is what will create an incentive for banks to open and service these accounts. Going by the prime minister’s speech, the government has decided to drop, for now, the R5,000 overdraft facility per account which would have exposed banks to huge NPA risks—that’s a good thing.
If the talk of ‘mobile governance’—from getting cash transfers to birth/death certificates electronically —is one form of inclusion, the ultimate inclusion that Modi promised was to give a big fillip to both skilling and getting manufacturing back on track. It is only through more jobs and higher salaries that true inclusion can come about. While the Budget made a beginning in getting electronics manufacturing back on track by correcting the inverted duty structure, Modi’s ability to deliver on this promise depends on how soon red tape can be removed. Certain beginnings have been made—doubling the number of workers at which the Factories Act become operational, for instance, will halve the number of units who toil under the inspector raj of the Factories Act.
The prime minister did well to address the issue of how the Planning Commission had to be revamped completely to keep in mind a new India’s needs, but it was worrying that he never took some points to their logical conclusion. While talking about how we were abusing scientific progress by using medical advances for female foeticide (a valid point), you would have thought Modi would have addressed the issue of GM crops, in the news since RSS pressure has put it on hold even though it is vital to agriculture’s progress—Modi’s agriculture progress in Gujarat had a strong GM component to it. Similarly, talking about how India can no longer afford to remain isolated in the world is all very well, but how does it explain the WTO stand India has just taken? Given Modi’s oratory skills, and performance yesterday, a regular prime ministerial press conference is a good idea.