Column: Is Modi big on the vision thing?

Aug 06 2014, 08:32 IST
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SummaryThere are obvious gaps, but the gas grids, the skilling and the financial inclusion programmes suggest a bigger plan.

There are two ways you can build a house. Hire a good contractor and, based on what you have seen of other houses, draw up a rough sketch of what you want and give it to the contractor. The other is to simply hire a good architect, accept some of his drawings, reject some; the biggest advantage, of course, is that you have a professional giving you ideas that could be quite different from the ones you already have.

Put that way it looks as if prime minister Narendra Modi is of the hire-the-contractor school of thought since he hasn’t filled up the advisory slots in the Planning Commission or the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, nor has he got any well-known technocrat, like a Nandan Nilekani, working with him. To be sure, Modi recognises the need for the architects—recall his speech about how India’s think tanks were failing it at Bibek Debroy’s book launch function in June—but for now at least, Modi seems to be trusting his own counsel.

And of bureaucrats who, in the past, have shown themselves to be so anti-reform, you shudder—witness the moves to keep away foreign investment in pharmaceuticals and retail though the stated policy of the government of the day was in favour of this. We are already seeing how the taxman is killing Modi’s SEZ dream, but the subject is interesting enough to warrant a separate column of its own.

Click here for graph

So you get the kind of mistakes that, at least in this newspaper’s opinion, are getting committed. Prices of natural gas are not raised though India continues to import this at a much higher price, plans are made to put onions on the Essential Commodities Act, the WTO process is unnecessarily jeopardised (goo.gl/uW8i7R and goo.gl/oXNQIm), no move is made to open up the coal sector to private players, trial of GM crops are delayed and may be put off completely due to RSS pressure, the list goes on.

It would, of course, be nice if Modi had his own Raja Chelliahs, Vijay Kelkars, Ashok Gulatis and Parthasarathi Shomes, and in time, he probably will. But you would have to be naive to not see the government’s larger game plan, although it is true, it would be better if the government itself chose to spell out what it was doing—one reason for not doing that, and possibly a wise one, is

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