New Delhi: A fundamental problem with PM Modi and his back office is that they’re project driven, not the policy driven. In last 15 months the biggest political defeat of the NDA government was not when the BJP won only three out 70 seats in the Delhi assembly elections. It was when the government realised it could not sell the `land bill’ to the farmers of India or even to its own constituencies.
Just a year after winning 282 seats in the Lok Sabha and an unambiguous mandate to rule, it is surprising to see that the same political leaders are, now, not doing a very good job of assessing the mood of people correctly. Take the current case of the Draft National Encryption Policy released on Monday evening. The government’s plan was to access all encrypted information, including personal emails, messages on WhatsApp or even data stored on a private business server. The government proposed that for at least 90 days, web and net users should make these available to security agencies if required, in text form. It also wanted everyone to hand over their encryption keys to the government.
By Tuesday afternoon, the government had backtracked. Telecom Minister Ravishankar Prasad announced a withdrawal of the draft policy saying the government would place it in public domain again after reworking some of the “expressions” that were giving rise to “misgivings”.
The question to ask: is the Modi government taking policy decisions without thinking them through or without proper consultations and then being forced to backtrack? One plausible explanation for government’s flip-flops could be that it reflects a certain aspect of Indian democracy, that the government is showing sensitivity to public criticism – especially on issues which concern the Indian youth, a constituency that took Modi to Race Course Road (the residence of the PM). After Anna Hazare’s 2011 andolan at Jantar Mantar and the support it had from younger people, no government in New Delhi can take the youth lightly. The real slide of UPA-2 began with Anna’s movement against corruption and not by any street level mobilisation of BJP. As Hindutva voices rise to higher decibels, street protests against the government have also risen. The robust fight put up by FTII students against the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as chairman of the institute and the furious debate over the mutton ban are two such instances. Currently, Modi enjoys the support of the centrist and right wing youth but many others are not enamoured of the BJP. Amit Shah calls them the “new development vote”. However, a more serious issue behind the government’s lack of coherence is the perceptible difference in the agenda of its prime minister, BJP ministers, leaders, the party and the RSS – the mentor of all of them. Prime Minister Modi is in a difficult position. After coming to power, he needed his stature to grow, to lend credibility to the government. However, Modi finds that a `pro corporate’ label has been attached to him and affects his image.
So the PM is trying to be a “ PM of poor Indians”. Actions speak louder than posturing and Modi is taking contradictory actions in handling the poor and issues related to the poor. For example, the Modi government wants fewer people dependent on farm land but at same time he has increased MNREGA daily wages from Rs.100 to Rs 150. Both ideas can’t work simultaneously. Another problem: BJP leaders are in complete awe of Modi and his clout with saffron voters so junior leaders in the party do not air their views. One does not hear Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj air their opinions. And, the RSS is clearly calling the shots as Amit Shah has unconditional respect for the parent organization and in no mood to question it or counter it. In such a situation, issues like the land acquisition bill, GST, beef ban, control over the web, etc., witness pulls and pushes once they come out into the public domain. The land bill was shelved only because the RSS opposed it and later, the party’s committee headed by Satpal Malik found that the overwhelming number of representations was against it.
In fact, a close study of the trajectory of the land bill shows that the Modi government demonstrated timidity in withdrawing the bill but was still wise enough to withdraw it. The Congress had hit the jackpot with the land bill but lost the opportunity to encash it. In every retreat, Modi and Amit Shah have cut their losses before they lose their vote bank, substantially. However, this is not the best way to govern a complex nation. One major fundamental problem with PM Modi and his back office is that they’re project driven, not the policy driven. In matters of policy-making it is showing a major deficiency. Modi’s class is not doing its homework.