Prime-Mover

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The PMO is the ‘Monarch of all it Surveys’. For the ministers, it is surrealism all the way: they sign but don’t govern. Every file is created in the PMO and dittoed by even ‘powerful’ (sic) ministers like Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh. Here is where India is headed, if Modi has his way

Sharad Gupta

Sharad Gupta

Sharad Gupta is a political commentator with over 30 years experience of working with publications like The Times of India, The Indian Express, India Today, Hindustan and Dainik Bhaskar. He is presently Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

It has been customary. Every government presents its report card after completing every single year of its tenure in office. But THE Narendra Modi is different. He likes to do things differently. That is why, when it’s appraisal time for completion of its three years in office, instead of remaining contented with just being examined, it has decided to don all the roles related to an examination paper-setter, examinee, invigilator and evaluator.

The Information and Broadcast Minister M Venkaiah Naidu, on behalf of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), asked all the ministries to submit reports on work done in not just the past 12 months but over the past 36 months that is, since the Modi government was formed three years ago. Not only that: he asked all the ministers to compare the work done by them with what had been inherited from Manmohan Singh government.

Unlike in the past two years, there will be no ministry-wise report card this year. It will be a compilation of the ‘good work’ done by various ministries.

Propaganda matters, bhaiya.

The compilation will be done by the PMO under the guidance of the Minister of State with Independent Charge for Power, Coal, New & Renewable Energy, Piyush Goyal, only to be released on May 26, the very day the Modi government was formed three years ago.

“See, we said it, we have done it!”

ADVISORY: Don’t bother to check out the facts on the ground, though…

Single-minded!

The PMO is very clear about what it wants to do. That’s why Naidu’s missive clearly directed all ministers to send reports on their achievements only in bullet points. And in not more than three pages, the report should cover five major achievements which might have benefitted the people, key performance indicators of the ministry, three reforms ushered in by the ministry and two success stories in one paragraph each.

It needs to be reminded that the Modi government, is being controlled by only the PMO. His close associates claim that Modi believes in a linear command line, with only one command centre. Too many centres of power brew indiscipline and chaos. That is why the PMO has asked the ministries to prepare their own reports.

But in fact, it will be the evaluation of Modi’s own performance, having been manifested through the PMO and then down the command structure to various ministries.

Whether it’s the foreign policy of the country, defence procurements, highway construction, energy security, new education policy or food grains procurement, all the decisions are being taken in the PMO and implemented by the respective ministries.

Autocratic Modi

The style of functioning of Modi’s PMO is clearly reflected in his decision to demonetise Rs. 1,000 and Rs. 500 currency notes on November 8 last year. Modi had convened a meeting of the Union Cabinet but did not disclose his intent. After the meeting, no minister was allowed to leave the venue, and the Prime Minister went to an adjacent room for a live broadcast, in which he announced the demonetisation decision.

The decision, according to rule books, has to be taken by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) which in turn, informs the Union Finance Minister and the PMO. But Modi turned the clock back.

His working style became starker when a journalist asked the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley whether he was aware of the demonetisation decision before it was announced. Jaitley initially kept mum. On being pressed further, Jaitley said curtly, “It was me who had signed the file.” The answer could be interpreted either way but the obvious inference one can draw from it is that he was sent the file at the penultimate moment, so as to procure his signatures on it. Formalities’ sake, that is.

This is not the first instance in which Jaitley has been treated this way by the PMO. The PMO doesn’t take the Finance Minister’s consent in appointments and transfers of even topmost officials of the departments run by him. Even the crude oil import bill, running into several thousand crores of dollars every month, which used to be vetted and signed by the Finance Ministry, has been taken over by the PMO. Now, the entire process is handled by the PMO, and one of the secretaries from PMO personally takes the file to the ministry and brings it back with him after getting the due signatures.

Home and Around

With External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj requiring frequent medical attention, the entire foreign policy is being decided by the PMO. But that is now… things were no different even when she was hale and hearty. She visited Bhutan, a smaller but strategically important country for India, with the PM. And she made a visit to Vietnam as a preparatory step to Modi’s visit. But of the 56 countries Modi visited, she has been persona non-grata for the PM. Though Modi visited the US four times, Swaraj has been there once, to attend a UN meeting, and the Americans do not know who she is.

Union Home Rajnath Singh might officially be Number 2 in the cabinet, but he doesn’t have much of a job to do, as most of the decisions are being taken in the PMO and by the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. The directors of agencies like CBI, Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) report to Doval on a daily basis. The crumbs are being taken care of by Minister of State Kiren Rijiju, who is known to be close to the PM.

Similarly, when the Prime Minister went with Union Surface Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari to inaugurate the Chenani-Nashri Tunnel, linking Jammu with Kashmir valley (which was a Congress government project for which Modi is taking TRPs), it was only him in the media coverage that followed the event. Gadkari was nowhere to be seen.

You just need to Google search PMO and hundreds of news stories flash before you. They are like PMO convenes a meeting of Transport Ministry officials to check use of red beacon on official vehicles or PMO discusses ‘Housing for All’ with developers. Whatever be the ministry, blueprints and the plans are being readied in the PMO.

That’s why PMO’s rating could reflect the overall performance of the government.

Undelivered Packages

During the past three years, the Modi government has announced several schemes but hasn’t delivered on most. The first scheme was to bring back black money stashed abroad. In fact, that was the key electoral lemon Modi sold to the country, and the first major ‘decision’ announced by the Modi government. Nothing has happened, and despite Modi being so social media savvy, he has never responded to the millions of barbs on this in Facebook.

The second one was the Namami Gange scheme – aimed at cleaning River Ganga and beautifying the riverfronts on major pilgrim destinations along the river from Hardwar to Hooghly. The proclaimed aim was also to make river transport an environment-friendly endeavour. Where does it stand today?

Three years down the line, the government hasn’t delivered on any of the two.

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, on behalf of the PMO, has cited several constraints in bringing the black money parked abroad, citing the same reasons given by the previous Congress-led UPA government that he had derided as head of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha. Now in power, Modi is falling back on Singh’s anthem, which was earlier so much anathema!

The Modi government had bet more than one lakh crore on the Namami Gange project. In fact, the Prime Minister attached so much significance to the project that he created a separate ministry for it, and made the firebrand Hindutva champion Uma Bharti the minister in charge of the project. She too, in her first interview, described Namami Gange as a project closest to her heart. However, three years down the line, Ganga has been as filthy as ever. A large number of industries and townships along the banks have been Ganga’s bane as they have been

pouring untreated toxic effluents and sewage into the river uninterruptedly. Effluent Treatment Plants have yet not been set up on industries and the municipalities.

Gandhi Tamasha

In a clearly populist political act to take away the Mahatma Gandhi’s baton from Congress hegemony, the Prime Minister himself took up a broom and launched the Swachh Bharat movement. He also tried to replicate the ‘ice bucket challenge’ by nominating ten people who would create a chain by further nominating ten other people. Everybody, from Sachin Tendulkar to Salman Khan, utilised the photo op. And that was the end of that. Though one can witness some impact of the movement in government offices, which have junked old files and have got spruced up, but other than that it has had little impact in everyday life.

On the economic front, Prime Minister launched a number of highly ambitious initiatives like Start-up India, Stand-up India, Skill India and Make-in-India. But none of these schemes actually took off during the past three years. The skill development scheme has been receiving a lot of flak for running substandard training centres and fraudulent enrolment of trainees.

The Bullet Train is yet another such idea which in unlikely to materialise even till the 2024 Parliamentary elections. Bringing in replicas that do not have track sounds and linear enough to rung on does nothing to India’s dream of becoming Japan. Nothing much seems to have moved in Smart City scheme. The government has barely managed to etch up parameters to define a smart city.

That is the reason why the government has approached reputed institutes like IIM- Bangalore, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Harvard Business School, University of Pennsylvania, Deakin University of Australia, and Delhi School of Economics to carry out a review of the scheme.

Demonising Currency

In fact, his one economic decision that really stirred the nation into a frenzy was demonetisation of high-denomination currency notes – Rs 1,000 and Rs 500. The government had estimated that it would be able to unearth black money to the tune of at least Rs 3,500 to Rs 4,000 lakh crore through this exercise. Yet, four months after the exercise was over, there is no clue of how much black money has been unearthed. The only solace, according to a senior BJP minister, is that almost entire cash in circulation has been deposited in banks and hence has become accountable. Now, Income Tax department has been scanning accounts of some 3,500 persons, who are learnt to have made big ticket deposits in the window after demonetisation, for possible unaccounted money.

It’s not that everything has been gloomy for the PMO. There have been schemes which have been game changers for the Modi government. These are the Ujjwala Yojana – giving free LPG connections and a cylinder to 5 crore BPL families; Affordable Housing aiming to provide a roof on the head of 4 crore BPL families by 2022; Pradhan Mantri Micro Unit Development and Refinance Agency (MUDRA) Yojana aimed to giving up to Rs 10 lakh loan to SMEs – about 6 crore people have availed this loan so far, Jan Dhan accounts – 25.5 crore such accounts have been opened so far and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY) electrifying all villages by December 2018 and providing round the clock electricity to these villages.

Populism Papa

The government wants to highlight projects of public importance which can be delivered well before 2019 general elections. Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) is one such project which the Modi government wants to commission before 2019. Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu has fixed December 2018 as the deadline for this project. The PMO has asked all ministers to submit a list of ongoing projects which they feel can be completed before December 2018 the time when the momentum of next general election build-up is likely to pick up. It is thus clear that Modi’s PMO is trying to strike a fine balance between populist politics for the masses and capitalist economics for the industry. The GST Act passed by the Parliament, free pricing of petroleum products, writing off industrial NPAs with public sector banks, raising foreign equity in media, banking and insurance are but some of the steps aimed at pleasing big industries. At the same time, it is also trying to woo the young generation by selling aspirational ideas.

Narendra Modi during 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign had promised the creation of one crore jobs. This promise was the magnet that lured the youngsters to the BJP, thereby paving way for Modi government. But, not even 10 lakhs jobs have been created during past three years. Whatever jobs it claims to have created may be attributed to the schemes like Mudra, Start-Up India, Make-In-India, etc., most of which have failed to make the desired impact. Says a well-known economist, requesting anonymity: “The government’s claims of over seven per cent growth rate are false. The data has been fudged. Whatever little growth we see today is jobless growth.” A BJP leader, however, counters, “These all are programmes with long-term benefits. It will take time for the county to see results of these schemes”.

The PM it seems, is more interested in using these schemes as a bait during elections in state after state, and ultimately eyeing 7 RCR beyond 2019. With rampant and fast-growing joblessness, the youth is getting attracted towards aspirational policies being announced by the PM. With over 30 crore people still living in abject poverty, giving out doles becomes a necessity.

After having electorally captured over 75 per cent India, Modi is eyeing electors triumph in states like Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka that are going to polls later this year. That will leave only Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Odisha and a few smaller states out of BJP and its allies’ domain.

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