Edited Excerpts from an interview :
It is nearly six months since Narendra Modi was sworn in as prime minister. How do you view his performance?
After Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, Narendra Modi has proved himself to be the most hardworking prime minister. He is also the most proactive. He has exhibited these two qualities. However, he has yet to learn the ropes of governance at the Centre. Now he is facing the arduous task of taming and then steering the bureaucracy because the whole structure, in spirit, is status-quoist, inert, corrupt and insensitive. Right from the peons to the secretary-level officials, passing-the-buck has been the greatest surviving strength of government employees. So, indecisiveness is another characteristic of the bureaucracy. As far as out-of-the-box thinking or breakthrough thinking is concerned, it is a far, far dream. So, now, Modi is facing this aspect of governance. It will be interesting to see how he fares in this context.
Similarly, you cannot differentiate between the two personalities of Modi and Amit Shah (BJP president) or, for that matter, between the party and the government. All rolled into one is the present picture. And it will continue to be so because Shah will not be seen as having any separate identity of his own. He will be just a shadow. He is yet to make a mark. So, with these things, naturally, there is always a liability or vulnerability of the emergence of several Dev Kant Barooahs. (Barooah was a former Congress president who famously said, “India is Indira. Indira is India.”) Only one was sufficient to damage the reputation. Here, that will become the way of working or the order of the day. So, it will be interesting to see how all these aspects are tackled.
What do you make of Prime Minister Modi’s pro-business image and some of the recent pronouncements by his government, particularly on issues such as black money?
Without imputing motives, I feel that the government needs to be much more forthcoming as far as actions are concerned. Just fond wishes won’t do. Just exclamations won’t suffice, but they have to be in unison with the action also. As Murli Manohar Joshi has also recently said (about politics and corporates), and I agree with him, a (Reliance Industries chairman) Mukesh Ambani patting Prime Minister Modi does not go down well with the cadres. The self-respect of the cadres is hurt. Because in this party, Nanaji Deshmukh (a founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh) used to have the best of relations with the industrialists but none of them could get into so much proximity and they were not given even the primary membership anywhere. But in the past 20 years, corporate houses have won Rajya Sabha seats also for some of their officials or ex-officials. So this nexus of political power and money power will definitely influence the formulation of policies also. It will be difficult for the political parties to strike a different line or mode that will be injurious or harmful to the interests of the corporates. So the people running the government must be aware of it and they should take precautions about it. That is why Modi was categorical that black money (“ek ek pai”; Hindi for every penny) will be brought back because that is the money of the poor. But, you see, this cannot match with his hobnobbing with the corporate sector.
Some view Modi as being autocratic. How would you describe his style of governance?
Modi has been working very smartly, so to say; he is an extraordinary performer when it comes to image, message, signals and politics. Nobody can match (him) and for that (to happen), a structure, technology and resources are needed. He has those things because of the party and the Sangh Parivar structures. Therefore, he is able to synchronise those three factors and that is his genius. One has to admit that, but that has to be translated into achievements at the ground level and it is in this context that I mentioned about the bureaucracy.
The Congress party is in disarray. A section of the media does not quite seem to have an appetite for being critical of the government. The judiciary is in need of reforms. In this situation, who do you think can effectively play the role of an Opposition?
The Opposition political parties have failed in their duties and they are not able to put their house in order. They are not able to digest their defeat or accept the reality that they have to rebuild the party; but how, they don’t know. They are also not clear about what should be their future strategy or planks of politics. On that count, the Opposition is nowhere to be seen. The media, for its part, has been rational enough to give time to this government before judging it or criticising it. They are acting fair enough, that is what I feel. As for the judiciary, it has come out openly with strong comments on black money and with regard to many other things; it has been vocal enough, assertive enough in its role. So I think that the media and the judiciary are indeed playing their roles, but the same cannot be said for the Opposition.
Can the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) be more effective as an Opposition than as a government?
They have to acquire more skills for wielding power to protect and promote the interests of the people. So I think it was because of the distress and despair in the minds of the voters against the erstwhile ruling establishment that AAP was successful more than what they also might have expected. They have yet to build themselves into a political instrument. Their movement may have been helpful but consolidation was not there. So go-slow would have been the better strategy but they are the best people to judge for themselves.
Could the BJP-Shiv Sena split have been avoided before the Maharashtra Assembly election?
I think Modi is playing his game of politics in an assertive manner, given the numbers he has. And he has not trampled upon the toes of other political forces per se. Instead, for example, in Amritsar (Navjot Singh) Sidhu was sidelined; by whom? It was totally unfair and the BJP had to gulp it at that moment. About the Shiv Sena, that has not been the case but definitely, because of the split, realities have changed as far as Shiv Sena is concerned and, on the BJP’s side, they have not been unfair in demanding more seats. That was not good politics played by the Shiv Sena. So it is their fault. That fault can’t be heaped upon the BJP.
So where do the BJP and the Shiv Sena go from here?
They (Shiv Sena) also will learn lessons, which it is due for them. Efforts are always there but many a time efforts may not yield desired results. But I don’t think the BJP does not want allies or that it has become arrogant. That will be unfair to say. It depends on both partners; unilaterally, it is not possible. They should also be sensible enough to understand the change in the ground realities and the texture of politics. And it is not the end of the day; they should understand that it is a continuing process. What I am apprehensive about is how politics is turning power-centric and not people-centric, leadership-centric or personality-centric and not issue-centric. Politics is not merely about government or governance. It is about the direction in which the whole nation is to be steered by the State apparatus. It all depends on how you view the role of the State. Just winning elections or numbers is not the end of the road. The State is supposed to protect those who can’t protect themselves. So I see that in this respect, more sensitivity is required by all parties, including the ruling party.The issues of the poor and the deprived have to get more attention in this era of marketism and the State should be weighing itself in favour of the poor and the deprived rather than creating a perception that it is closer to the corporates.
Certain instances of indiscipline reported from Maharashtra have embarrassed the BJP…
It will become the order of the day. If the party gets degenerated into just an electoral machine and the party, instead of being a party of workers with a mission, gets degenerated into a party of candidates for power — and instead of holistic growth, electoral gains become their parameters — then all this is bound to happen.
The government has taken certain measures on the economic front but there is a view that more reforms are needed and quickly at that.
The situation will become clear in the next Budget because the last Budget was an extension of the previous government’s interim Budget. There was no original concept in it. The next Budget will definitely be the indicator of the thought process of the BJP. Till then, we have to wait as far as economic issues are concerned. Having said that, there is the issue of amendments to the Land Acquisition Bill, which the government is expected to bring in the winter session of Parliament. Then there are some cases on fast track against certain politicians… all of which is getting delayed. So I think one should not test the people’s patience beyond a limit. Six months is neither too early nor too late but the government has to present itself as pro-Bharat and pro-poor. There is a widespread perception that on certain issues the government is pro-Bharat, but it has to be translated at the policy level. For example, the ban on cow slaughter is not only an emotional issue; it is as well linked to economic and environmental aspects and also the direction of the development model. Breeding centres are needed. A couple of centuries ago, the cattle-to-man ratio was 7 to 1. At the time of Independence, it became 1 to 1 and now it is the reverse; today, the cattle-to-man ratio is 1 to 7. This is an alarming situation. It will definitely affect the health of the country, lead to malnutrition among children and the socio-psycho atmosphere will be hurt if this ratio further declines. The government can take certain steps such as ensuring that the export of beef and fodder is banned altogether. These seemingly innocuous steps can go a long way in addressing some of the problems. I intend to submit a memo to the government on the issue of cattle, specifically cows and their progeny.
The ‘trickle-down’ development model is a proven failure, so a departure is needed. Whether this government indeed does some out-of-the-box thinking remains to be seen. It will be interesting to see what is there in the Budget.
The government may be emotionally inclined towards being pro-Bharat but I think a lot needs to be done for the government to adopt a pro-poor approach. This aspect has to be geared for not merely lip service but a genuine commitment is needed. Eco-centric development is the need of the hour. fdi (foreign direct investment) and trickle-down theory won’t work and they will be detrimental to those people who are dependent on natural resources. Their livelihood will be threatened. Therefore, sensitivity and continuous exposure to that section of the people is needed, not investor summits.
Instead of practising the failed dictum of trickle-down theory, they should proceed towards eco-centric development and not merely anthropocentric development. An overdependence on the trickle-down theory can be counterproductive as it could encourage disparities and inequalities. Inclusive development and empowerment are needed, not through doles and charities but by the active participation of those sections of society and opening up avenues for that is the task of the government. There is a lot of talk about smart cities but hundreds of villages could vanish or be affected by the development of smart cities. Should smart cities then be a priority?
BJP veterans such as LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi have been sidelined. Could they have been treated differently?
If electoral politics is the approach, then whatever has been done is correct; but if politics is to be viewed holistically, then some more options could have been there. But, then again, there is no use discussing all those options. Gatham Gathaha… what has happened, has happened. One has to move on.
Concerns have been expressed in some quarters over the future of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and the Unique Identification (Aadhaar) Number — two schemes that had been launched by the erstwhile UPA government. Where do you stand on this issue?
Continuity and change are to be blended together. As it is said, old is gold but everything new may not be the best, so change and continuity should go hand in hand. Many alterations to MGNREGA are needed but more changes are needed in the legislation on land acquisition so that agricultural land is saved and the land that protects the interests of animals, birds and other living beings is protected. The interests of jal (water), jameen (land), jungle and jaanvar (animals) should be at least as important as that of humans. So I feel if the approach is altered from an anthropocentric development to eco-centric development, it will do more good.
What are your impressions about the government’s foreign policy?
I think the government is in a learning mode and needs more time to understand the ropes of foreign policy. It could definitely have better diplomatic and economic relations with Russia because they have been natural allies, geopolitically, in the past. China can be a competitor, if not a rival, but we will have to see how far this competition can be healthy.