Modi’s First 12 Days in Office- Hitting the Right Chord and Making Babus Sweat

Written by: Pathikrit Payne
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Modi’s First 12 Days in Office- Hitting the Right Chord and Making Babus Sweat
Bangalore: Twelve days is not at all enough time to judge a man's performance. But twelve days at the helm of affairs of the largest democracy of the world certainly give an idea about the intensity of the man's quest to bring real time transformation in the paradigm of governance and governmental functioning in the nation. Twelve days is enough to know whether the man has started to walk the talk.

His first bold step- Inviting the heads of South Asian countries in spite of opposition from regional parties

Even before Narendra Modi took oath on the 26th of May as the 15th Prime Minister of India, his decision to invite the heads of states of all the South Asian neighbouring countries in spite of resistance from regional parties like Shiv Sena and AIADMK, showed his decisiveness and absolute disinterest to swing to the tantrum tunes of regional parties.

In spite of differences that India has with Pakistan or Sri Lanka or other neighbouring states, there cannot be any doubt that one has to take them along since the fate of South Asia and India is intertwined. Of course strong words, warnings and subsequent actions have their place and when the time comes strong message would be given (and already been given) to Pakistan on cross border terror issues and to Sri Lanka on the issue of relentless arrest of Indian fishermen. But ignoring them altogether and not inviting them for the swearing in would have sent a wrong signal. Modi's invitation was more of a leverage and for breaking the ice to take things forwards.

One of the biggest reasons for the inability of the UPA government to take strong decisions was because of its failure to stand up against the dictums and tantrums of its recalcitrant allies. One may argue that Modi has enough numbers in Lok Sabha to ignore allies but that is not the point.

Modi would still need Shiv Sena to fight Maharashtra elections and would need AIADMK to pass crucial bills in the Rajya Sabha. The issue is not about ignoring or disrespecting allies or regional parties but to respectfully not concede to such demands which might seem great in the short run but does not work in the long run. Diplomacy is not about one-upmanship but something more than that. And Modi is showing his dexterity in dealing with it.

His Next Bold Step- Showing babustheir place and taking them to task

The next striking feature is the manner in which Modi has been going around in creating a new framework to change the typical working style of the sarkari babus. Modi knows tool well that change can never come in national governance unless the work culture of the babusis changed. One has to visit the Gujarat State Secretariat to understand the enormous change in work culture that Narendra Modi brought about in Gujarat Government, something that is expectedly would be done in the national level and for good.

Media reports state that there is a strong possibility of the Government mooting for a six day a week working schedule for the bureaucrats and even though no notification has yet come on the same, most are being forced to work till late hours on weekdays and even on weekends the reluctant babu is seen in office.

For once they cannot complain because the man at the helm of affairs, i.e. the PM himself puts in 18 hours a day in office. The babu now knows that he would have to be prepared well for the presentations and cannot fool the PM. The babu knows that now he would have to have expertise on issues and cannot be vague or else would be taken to task.

In fact that best thing about Modi's style of governance is the sense of urgency that he brings to work, something that India's archetypal governmental babus and their laid back work culture have literally forgotten.

Improvement in governance invariably has to start with making the government officials work overtime and under stringent accountability of delivery on time and Modi has hit the first nail in the coffin of poor governance by making the babus prioritise work over golf and cocktail parties. He now knows well enough Modi can come for inspection of any of the office any time and given Modi's penchant for cleanliness, one knows well what is in the offing is dirt is to greet him. Finally perhaps governmental offices would become a little more cleaner.

The quintessential babu's habit of packing his bag and leaving office by five or six in the evening would hopefully become history. His fundamental birthright to shirk work, to seek petty excuses for making delays, and to complicate simple things would have to be abolished. His sheer disconnect with the grassroots reality and utter reluctance to come step out of the air-conditioned rooms of South or North Block and feel the heat of real India, has to go. Sad it might be for the babu but is extremely good for the nation.

Modi's third bold step- Empowering Bureaucrats to take decisions and assurance to protect them

Yet it is not just about merely making the bureaucracy work hard and under stringent deadlines but also about empowering them with the authority and conviction to take bold decisions, something that has never been done in India.

Unfortunately, the Indian style of governance has always rewarded delays and punished alacrity, something that has got embedded deep into the Indian psyche as well wherein taking too long to do a task is considered a reflection of sincerity and effort while doing it too fast is considered hasty and reflection of lack of seriousness.

The Indian style of governance has always been about sitting on files, laying eggs on them if possible and deem every file as classified and confidential. The Indian style is also about dilly-dallying on decision making and keeping it pending for eternity if possible.

Most of the time, passing the buck has been the name of the game and no one is ready to stick one's neck out and take a decision for fear of being targeted, for being blamed of wrong doing and eventually facing prosecution. In the UPA era it became even graver because the government mired deeply in wrong doing was not in a position to inspire its own bureaucracy to go for quick decision making. Delay thus became the catchword.

Where Modi differs....

Modi's assertion to the top bureaucrats to work without fear and that he would protect them was perhaps the kind of assurance that every efficient bureaucrat wants to hear. There cannot be any doubt that there are several incredibly efficient bureaucrats in the system just as there are inefficient ones, but the efficient, enthusiastic and the go-getters eventually are dragged down by the laid back system which punishes efficiency. Possibly this assurance from Modi and the feeling that the PM is there to back them would make the real performers give their best. And that is what the nation needs.

Opening a direct channel of communication with secretaries

Narendra Modi also went one step ahead and opened a channel of communication with all the Secretaries of all ministries and stated to them that he would always be accessible. This kind of direct communication does indeed not only help secretaries feel more confident about his job but also goes a long way in keeping even the ministers on tenterhooks who would be aware that in case of lackadaisical attitude, obstruction or forcing the bureaucracy to do something wrong may lead to the respective secretaries directly going to the PM to sort things out and report.

The incidents during the UPA era especially regarding the coal and the 2G spectrum scams is no more a secret as to how ministers had a free run and top departmental secretaries had no option but to toe to their lines in committing wrongs.

A powerful PM with an unblemished and a no-nonsense approach, who has given the departmental secretaries the option to meet him anytime with issues, would have scared ministers to the hilt before doing anything wrong. But that was not to be the case with UPA. Modi especially is doing what Manmohan Singh ceremoniously failed.

The Final Say of PMO on all Policy Issues

Related to this is the assertion of the new government that the PMO would have the final say on all important policy issues. This is an extremely important step and the result of this kind of assertion is there to see in Gujarat in terms of prompt decision making and cutting off of red tape.

Contrast this with the kind of lassez faire approach that Manmohan Singh ran. In his tenure, most ministries were like individual fiefdoms of the ministers with the man at the helm of affairs having no control on any of the activities of the government. The result was there for everyone to see. Fact of the matter is that government has to run in unison as a cohesive force and not as disparate island type organisations.

The PMO thus invariably has to play the crucial role of a catalyst as well as the adhesive that glues the entire government together, something that Manmohan Singh failed miserably in doing. Yet, having the primacy or the final say in all the policy affairs of the government also needs the PM to have that kind of stature, something that Narendra Modi has given the incredible mandate that people gave to him in the election and something that Manmohan Singh did not have even an iota of.

If morning shows the day that Modi has hit the right chord knowing well the responsibility that comes with the massive mandate that people of India have given him. Given the passion for work that he is known to have, there is no doubt that government officials would now be more responsive and accountable but Modi's real challenge would be to institutionalise these changes so that an efficient and responsible government becomes a norm than an exception.

Pathikrit Payne

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