Rally Around The Flag, Says PM—Will Bharat Respond?

India—that is, Bharat, is at the cusp of a historic opportunity. We, The People—have before us, the opportune moment to rally around the national flag, and make our contribution in redeeming the dreams, aspirations, and expectations of over a billion people.

Focus Shifts to Policy Translation of Modi-nomics

In the coming weeks, and months—the policy translation of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s televised address on 12th May will fundamentally reform, reposition, reset, and reboot the economy of the Indian Republic. The economic translation of his reform agenda will determine how much he borrows from the de-regulation-based policies of Reagan-omics, the supply-side economics of Thatcher-ism, and the stimulus-oriented focus of Abe-nomics. Chances are that the Prime Minister will steer clear of rigid labels, and will borrow from all models—to build a uniquely Indian response to reinvigorate the economy. Devised in national interest, and under the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic—his economic policy is widely expected to cut red tape, minimise intervention, boost productivity, enhance efficiency, and effectuate targeted delivery of welfare schemes.

On The Politics of Policy

Among the quintessential traits of a political leader, is to be visionary in thought, and far-sighted in action—so that structural reforms can be triggered, and no crisis goes, as Winston Churchill would put it—to waste. Prime Minister Modi has, at his disposal—immense political capital, which he has appropriately chosen to rally behind his reform agenda. By packaging his ideas effectively, the Prime Minister has ensured that the political message earns his reform agenda— the required time, and space to sustain itself, and produce visible results. With a targeted use of his political strength, the Prime Minister can manoeuvre the federal polity that he heads, and push through reforms. In simple words, for the reforms to remain politically, and societally viable—they have to be accompanied with massive political investment. India has much to gain, if he can now focus on ensuring that the message does not get lost in bureaucratic translation.

Decoding the Reform Agenda

By delivering a five-point reform agenda which includes critical reforms aimed at reinvigorating economy, building infrastructure, leveraging technology, harnessing human capital, and developing self-reliance—the Prime Minister is seeking to overhaul the economy, by using a bottom-up approach. That the stimulus package will be  aimed at creating conditions for sustained growth in the medium, and long-term is welcome news—and will go a long way in building our production capabilities. There is, also, a need to focus on boosting demand, so that businesses can take advantage of our large market.

Carrying out reforms to processes, systems, and laws is critical. Take, for instance, the fact that the reverse migration triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the crisis of India’s labour laws. No matter how well intentioned, over 40 Central laws, and more than 200 State legislations—have collectively led to the  informalisation of the work force, and have also stifled growth, by failing to create opportunities for sustained economic, and social progress. The pandemic has also highlighted the wide discrepancies in India’s growth story, where some ‘consuming’ states have been left behind—leaving their workers dependent upon other ‘manufacturing’ states, for employment opportunities. There is an argument to be made that a majority of these laws have failed to achieve the desired object of protecting workers, and have, in fact, only perpetuated undue exploitation by middlemen, inspectors, and other such agents. This is not to say that there should be no regulation, but that for compliance to be more effective—the governmental interference should be minimal, and better aligned with market realities.

Similar reforms are also needed to facilitate land acquisition, improve agricultural marketing policy, streamline power sector, and rationalise taxation policies. Such large-scale reforms will enable states like Uttar Pradesh to generate jobs for the returning migrants.

Over the next few years, the reforms unleashed by various levels of government, and drafted under the pretext of this pandemic—are set to become a subject of intense public scrutiny, and political debate. What will inevitably follow this period of churning—in Courts, on streets, and in national conversation— is the overall stabilisation of the framework, as different State models are put to test, and a comprehensive set of new laws are evolved. The fact that the popularly elected Prime Minister is solidly behind the agenda is welcome news.

Defining the ‘new normal’ for fighting COVID-19

Many have complained that the ideation by the Prime Minister was not detail-oriented. They are missing the point that the objective of the broadcast was not to share roadmaps; for that is a task best left to domain experts. The world can do without health prescriptions from ill-equipped leaders on whether the people should bleach themselves, or use a particular drug. To better understand the immediate health response, the country needs regular updates from Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Union, and State Health Ministries, and COVID-19 hospitals.

By inspiring people to swing into action, the Prime Minister has prepared the country for what lies ahead. In a world where movement restrictions may be imposed frequently over the next two years, with the aim of giving the health system, some breathing space to recover, each time it gets overwhelmed with large number of cases—it is important to build endurance for a long fight. Getting people back to work while we still can—even if for a short period of time, will infuse some much-needed liquidity in the market, thus better preparing the country for the long fight. There is, however, a need to decentralise the response, as some cities are more burdened than the rest. We must also be vary of bureaucratic tamasha which may be unleashed by a highly restrictive set of guidelines.

Our civilisational continuity is a living testament to our indomitable spirit. Whether India will rally around the flag, and seize this moment—will depend on the tenacity of its people. Meanwhile, a lasting legacy awaits Prime Minister Modi—if he manages to write a new chapter in India’s growth story.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Gaurav Sansanwal
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