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Don’t absolve Modi by saying he doesn’t have the right team to bring in economic reforms

Modi has always found a way to achieve his political goals— Article 370 to Ram Mandir. Shekhar Gupta can’t blame the PM's bureaucrats for his economic failures.

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A recent article in ThePrint by Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta tried to analyse why Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s big ideas do not lead to any real economic reforms. Mr Gupta arrives at the conclusion that the Modi government lacks the kind of truly good bureaucrats that some of his predecessors such as PV Narasimha Rao, Atal Behari Vajpayee or Dr Manmohan Singh had. The current generation of bureaucrats, Mr Gupta says, is simply not of the calibre of their predecessors who helped their political bosses pilot major reforms.

Though excellently written, this is not a new theory. Other noted political columnists have often trotted analyses on similar lines. Tavleen Singh, for example, has often blamed a weak cabinet and stonewalling bureaucrats for misleading Mr Modi. Others have also echoed those thoughts.

This is a nice theory. It is also completely erroneous as anyone who has any basic understanding of leadership will tell you. Leaders come in a great many shapes and sizes and characteristics. What all good and great leaders have in common is one thing – the ability to articulate their vision and motivate a team to execute it flawlessly. They also choose exactly the right people for the right jobs. There is no great leader who has blamed a bad team for his failure to achieve his goals or big ideas.

There is actually very little in common between great leaders except for their ability to achieve their goals again and again, in good times and bad, and often in the face of great odds. They elevate their organisations and find the right teams to execute the right tasks. I will just take a couple of examples, from the corporate world and also from politics to illustrate my point.

Also read: Why Modi doesn’t feature in a list of India’s reformist prime ministers

The late Steve Jobs was as unlike Satya Nadella as any two persons can could be. Jobs was a perfectionist who could drive people mad, a devotee of great design and a person who could dream up great products that consumers themselves didn’t think they needed until Apple introduced them. He was also, by most accounts, not a great human being. He was tough on his subordinates, often irrational in his demands, and could break them emotionally. But he built an organisation that churned out one great product after another, and chose a team of superstars who could execute his vision down to the tiny detail – from Jony Ive in design to Tim Cook, the super executor who could turn prototypes into perfect product lines.

Satya Nadella is quiet and swears by empathy and teamwork. He turned Microsoft around from the stagnation of the Steve Ballmer days and has churned out one hit product after another while building a fantastic team and also a very pleasant workplace. He has never claimed to be a creative genius like Jobs though he is very clear about the direction he wants Microsoft to go. And he is one of the most successful technology leaders of this generation.

Let us turn now to politics, and home. Most economic observers agree that some real reforms were initiated and piloted by the governments led by the late P V Narasimha Rao and the late A B Vajpayee. These men were vastly different from each other and they followed very different political ideologies as well. Both faced considerable headwinds – Rao had to deal with an economic crisis, a fractious coalition and even opposition within his own party. Despite that, he managed to pick and build a cohesive team that delivered the kind of economic reforms that his successors would build upon.

A B Vajpayee also led a coalition but probably a more benign one than Rao. He also faced some stiff opposition from people within his own party and from the RSS, the ideological mentor of BJP, who thought he had turned too liberal. (He had not, in my opinion). But he put together a team of efficient ministers and bureaucrats who adroitly manoeuvred disinvestment, tax reforms, infrastructure development and foreign policy despite enough grumbling at home.

Also read: PM, CM, DM: India’s 3 big power centres have been exposed by one disaster

Neither man ever blamed anyone else – or expected their supporters to blame external conditions – for any failure to achieve any of their goals.

On the other hand, consider Mr Modi and his inability to execute economic reforms, as Mr Gupta posits. Mr Modi has won a huge mandate – not once, but twice. He works with handpicked officials, some of whom have worked with him for long during his stint as chief minister of Gujarat. His cabinet is also handpicked. He has not kept many stalwarts from the Vajpayee cabinet – people such as Yashwant Sinha, Major General B C Khanduri or Arun Shourie, who all had proven administrative ability — preferring to pick an all new cabinet personally loyal to him.

Mr Modi relied on the late Arun Jaitley, the late Manohar Parrikar, and relies on Piyush Goyal and Nitin Gadkari. All of them have a reputation for efficiency and brains. Mr Modi also picked Suresh Prabhu, another person with a track record of being a good administrator, though he was later dropped from the cabinet. Mr Modi also had enlisted the support of many retired bureaucrats from time to time – from N K Singh to Nripendra Misra.

Despite that, his economic reforms have been singular failures. Demonetisation was a terrible idea and it was executed even worse. GST could have been a great tax reform but ended up destroying small and medium industries because of its many flaws. Despite the big noise made about Make in India, it was essentially the National Manufacturing Policy of 2011 under a new name and bigger publicity budget.

PM Garib Kalyan and the power sector reforms were bad copies of ideas already tried earlier. MNREGA is an old scheme that Mr Modi had once rubbished but has fallen back on currently to provide relief to the poor. His one genuine reform has been the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) but that is also now going down because of constant tweaking of regulations.

Also read: India’s local economies lie outside innovation zone. Can’t chase Modi’s Atmanirbhar dream

On the other hand, no one can fault Mr Modi for failing to achieve his political goals. He wanted Article 370 gone and he figured out a way. He wanted a BJP government in every state and he has pretty well succeeded in that, even in states where his party did not manage to get enough votes. Despite not having a galaxy of eminent lawyers that the Indian National Congress boasts of, his team of legal eagles convinced the Supreme Court to allow Ram Temple to be built. He wanted to get rid of Triple Talaq and he succeeded. He got the Citizenship Amendment Act passed by Parliament despite protests. When he has wanted anything politically, he has generally succeeded – with a little help of Mr Amit Shah, the Home Minister and his closest confidante.

So what can one deduce from his successes in the political goals and his failures on the economic reforms? I can only propose two theories. One, that Mr Modi is really not interested in economic reforms. Two, he may be interested but he doesn’t trust economic ideas from professionals that do not gel with his own ideas.

Either way, his political successes and economic failures have led to a small army of columnists to find out who can be blamed to absolve Mr Modi of any personal responsibility on that count.

This article was first published by ProsaicView. 

The author is the former editor of Businessworld and Business Today magazines. Views are personal.

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  1. Not only with regard to Economic reforms. Even in handling post Corona crisis one canot say that Pm has enlisted best of experts. So much and so diverse opinion and action points are available in Media and think tank publications. Why are they not reaching PM. It is the duty of leader to ensure that best of advice andsuggestions reach him.This will inspire confidence of experts and specialists to be more forthcoming.

  2. Yrs is a point of view!
    We had lalbahadur vajpai to name few
    Commonsense and trust to listen proven stalwarts was
    Kamaraj as Kingmaker!

  3. ***Congress = We have just one family that loots.
    ***BJP = We are one large family of looters.
    ***O Gullible People of India, judge for yourself which kind of looter you would prefer, or perhaps you could do very well without a ‘Government’. Gone are those days when a POLITICIAN could be trusted. Perhaps in future it would be better to live without the presence of a Government !

  4. Greatest corruption scandals, largest NPA frauds have happened post 2006 after NFU (Non Functional Upgradation) was granted to Bureaucrats.

    Bureaucrats of the rusted so called ‘steel frame’ with constitutionally assured lifelong employment and even post retirement perks and privileges are the real power without accountability. In cahoots with netas they have spread the canker of corruption to the lowest clerk level. Created a maze of Acts, Rules,Rulings, judicial pronouncements often not even implemented by bureacracy, confusing ambuguous policy letters, ifs buts obfuscation all designed to control prevent productive activities with licences permissions … indefinite delay in permission even with correct paperwork but granted on a phone call in a jiffy…… really added Indian ingenuity to Soviet Socialist tricks with a edmaze of non transparent procedures processes paperwork abd huge discretionary powers…. lifelong babugiri needs ti be abolished

  5. Let us not forget the big picture India elects political leaders and not bureaucrats.

    You start with what you have. What is expected from a great leader is clear vision, bold steps and flawless execution.
    This is why Alexander the Great said “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.”

  6. Whatever our PM has been doing last Six Years ,now results are coming.
    Now you have to decided Is he doing for our great nation or for making history for himself.
    We love India ,we can do anything for India .History also tail the same thing.

    Public of India will decide the future of India.
    Jai hind,Bandematharam.

  7. Dear , Leftist and useless people of my nation atleast read the whole article.
    Just by reading the title ,you hopeless people starts to omit shit everywhere…

    • Try to develop a brain, unless you are just doing your job of posting modi advertisements as part of IT cell or some Facebook group. All global credit agencies have now rated India’s credit rating as the lowest. And they have clarified that this is not because of Covid but because of downward trend in economy over last few years. This is ok me big achievement that you should lay at Modi’s door.

  8. Don’t absolve Modi by saying he doesn’t have the right team to bring in economic reforms….yeah

  9. A country has his own priorities and definitely achievements is counted as the development and prosperity of any countries and the parementer is set and are Health, education, GDP , employments… And what modi has done is not a achievements this can be done by any bureaucrats or by the Judicial..And frankly speaking he should step out of PM as he and his team can never bring as they are not efficient and qualified..

  10. I absolutely agree with the title of this article. Demonetization was Mr Modi’s solo decision. No team was consulted or even informed, so rightness or not of any team was irrelevant. When Mr Modi was meeting with the Industrialists prior to the latest budget, forget about any team, even the finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman was not present in those meetings. When Rafale’s decision of 36 jets and sidelining of HAL was taken, even the then defense minister late Manohar Parrikar was in complete dark about the decision-making process. Narendra Modi’s weird self confidence, coupled with his lack of ability to understand involved issues actually spells great danger for our country.

  11. Modi loves to look at the magic mirror and ask, “Mirror Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”….and when he hears the words Modi! Modi! Modi! echoing again and again and again, his ego is pumped up. Over the last six years the only “reform” we have seen is his pumped up ego.

  12. Dear chief Editor and author of the article
    The article written by Prosenjit Datta is nothing but a useless
    Attempt to waste time of readers. Even the naming article- Don t absolve Modi…… is highly derogatory.
    Is assuming the office of the Prime Minister of India is a criminal activity , that needs absolving , if some detractors of the person assuming that august office are not able to comprehend what the incumbent Prime Minister is doing for the country working 20 + hours per day .?? Number two , why Modi s detractors assume he will “REFORM” the system—economic and administrative at the pace they think is correct ? He has his own mind and years of experience of life as a common man, as political worker, as a Successful Chief Minister for 10-12 years. He is supposed to know more than drawing room authors .No doubt his work is and will always remain as work-in–progress , as there is no set goals like numbers of Runns to be scored in a ongoing cricket match. What ever is achieved in economic growth, internal security, external security environment, international affairs , political reforms by the collective efforts Of his team of ministers , will always seem further improvable. The voters of India has given mid-term review of his performance in May -2019 and are always having watchful eyes unlike the past when votes were cast in name of a DYNASTY.
    What most of the journalists and authors fail to grasp or if grasped fail to acknowledge , the old golden days of dynastic privileges to them will never return and they still keep on down-voting Modi to please erstwhile master. Stop this futile exercise.

  13. Even if the bureaucracy is finally blamed for the failure, the men with proven loyalty were selected and brought to Delhi by Modi ji, it may be noted.

  14. If people think that country is being run by the ‘vision & wisdom’ of the Narendra Modi & Amit Shah et al, they are wrong. As everybody knows RSS is the ideologue of BJP and BJP is the political offshoot of RSS, BJP, who is leading the central government, can’t take any major decision without a green signal from RSS, it’s an underlining fact. Those who know RSS are well aware of the programs of the RSS. Adding to this, we find that almost all the people who have been there in various ministries as experts or otherwsise, either have RSS connection or have leaning towards its ideology. So whatever the failures of Narendra Modi led central govt has, majority have to be shared by RSS, owing to its ideology and strategy.

  15. All his achievements are against a minority , which has no efficient representative in the parliament….calling them achievements are a joke as they have nothing to add to the growth of our nation …..his divise tactics alone are enough to be counted as a facist regime approch…. A la nazi and Mussolini destruction approach…….also an impotent opposition …sold out supreme cour and judiciary……and unemployed youths brainwashing has led to the growth of modi and his corny capitalist friends ….rest the country in shambles

  16. Modi’s bootlickers will promptly defend Modi no matter what. Perhaps the only organisation that continues to function properly is the BJP IT CELL. That is because those foul-mouthed personnel continue to receive a handsome salary, albeit at the cost of the tax payer. Considering the BJP’s numerous misdeeds over the last six years, it is obvious that the ruling govt is forced to defend itself in such a low manner. Congress looted India in 60 years, while the BJP looted double that sum of money within a matter of six years! Now that’s called progress!…isn’t it?

  17. You forget the weakest of all, Manmohan Singh. He got the NSG waiver despite opposition from the world over. India will never forget him. BJP and CPM were against it.

  18. The shameless BJP-IT-CELL stooges, whose primary profession is to watch P.0.R.N. and side-by-side tweet about the glory of Modi, are under the impression that their “noble” leader is going to pay them even after he goes out of power. They can display their gimmicks only as long as he carries any credibility. They think nobody knows who they are. They will surely be thrashed once the BJP goes out of power. As it is, the BJP is not only running out of ideas, but also running out of money now. Any reparations they try to undertake is likely to be a failure and will become another debacle in the long line of debacles exhibited over their tenure.

  19. Totally agree with the rebuttal. A bit of common sense is all it takes to figure out that Mr Gupta is trying to play it safe. He simply doesn’t want to be in the bad books of the ruling party.

  20. Here’s one more theory.. all his political goals have been achieved by manipulation.. of laws and people.. generally by underhand means. They also depend on massive money power, and a highly biased media. These are all Modi’s strengths.

    His biggest weakness are a lack of original vision, and a need for constant validation. When you put these two factors together, you get a team of people who are loyal to the man’s ego, and not to the nation or it’s people – therein lies the failure of the Modi government. And funds for the Central Vista, rather than the migrants walking home symbolise the man and his actions best.

  21. The PM was never interested in economic affairs. If economy did well by default, he wanted credit but you can see that he does not want to “own” economic reforms like he wants to “own” politico-social affairs like subsidy delivery, external affairs or issue of majority vs minority. It is no great surprise that the economic team then has steadily lost talent – Rajan, Urijit Patel, the 2 Arvinds etc. Bureaucrats working in economic ministry seem to have realised that the political bosses do not seem to be having their whole heart in economic affairs – prime example is continuing with Nirmala Sitharaman (whose political loyalty is unquestionable) when she can be easily replaced with someone with domain expertise like MV Kamath (who may need independence to operate and may not acquiesce to hair brained schemes like demo) That is the subliminal message of “atmanirbhar Bharat.” Perhaps the PM himself may not be able recognise this fact. The writer seems to have delved deeper into Modi’s economic mind than Mr Gupta. My compliments to him.

  22. In economic growth and development he is confused or not really interested. The bhakts are finding alybies to free him from the responsibility for this tragic situation. Also most of his cabinet members lack required qualifications other than mere loyalty.

  23. PM Modi is very clear about the direction of Hindutva for country where there is no opposition or no dissent. After all Hindutva is an ideology just like Communism where at has social power that is based in the culture, economy and government in modern world. BJP child of RSS want to make Hindutva as default thinking of common man at the same time have appearance of democracy. This is why Modi and his team is has a razor sharp focus on winning elections or somehow forming govt even after losing elections for their social agenda.

    For BJP economy comes after Hindutva . All bureaucrats know that Modi’s actions are to support crony capitalism while trying to appear socialist. They also know that in reality, he practices electoral authoritarianism. Again in these things for BJP’s social agenda of Hindutva.

    Only thing I can add here is that everyone is discussing economy because pandemic is illuminating what has been not been done so for by BJP govt in the name of “Acche Din”. Conclusion is there is coherence when it comes to Hindutva and incoherence when it comes to economy.

  24. I totally agree.Modi is a go getter. He does not believe in traditional economics. He wants the results here and now . We view his economics from the orthodox angle and thus do not approve his economic policicies . The Jandhan accounts and schemes like Ujjwala Yojna have created a structure ensuring that the benefits reach the poor. which is one of the aims if economics. Let us hope that his unsystematic approach to economics proves the economists wrong.It is like a gamble.It may make one rich overnight or reduce one to penury. Anyhow, covid has made the playing field level for everyone and everyone has to start from zero again.Let us see if we can grab this opportunity and improve.

  25. Gyarah mulko ke liberals Modi ko harana chahte hai.
    Magar Modi ko harana, mushkil hi nahi namumkin hai.

    Kyonki public sab janati hai aur Modi ke sath hai.

  26. A very well written article. Really gives good insights and comparisons between ‘economic’ and ‘political’ will of the current central government. The most unfortunate thing that India is facing today is lack of talent on both aisles of polity, be it the Government or Opposition. Lets hope that this pandemic crisis pushes India on path new reforms as the Balance-of-payments crisis pushed us path of reforms in 1991.

  27. The author has hit the nail on the head. The present PM has no interest in economic reforms. The PM has no interest in relinquishing the arbitrary and discretionary powers of government. His belief is in a government that must occupy the commanding heights of every facet of the citizen’s life. A government that knows best and gives no space to the common individual.

  28. Every PM of our country has done well at that circumstances. The thing during great PVN Rao as PM was entirely different from today’s situation. Comparing with those yester years to today is absolutely wrong. We have to act according to present.
    Never live in the past n be practical about present n immediate future.

    • What good has Modi done? – his greatest contribution will be spreading hatred and defranchasing the Moslems. Imaginary Surgical attacks to polarise majority during elections. Destroying the economy.

    • Mr SABYASACHI KONER: The economy was tanking long before the COVID crisis struck the country. And that economic disaster was man-amde or rather Modi made with idiotic moves such as demonetisation, GST, crippling leather exports by cow slaughter bans, making investors wary of bringing FDI to the country due to communal tensions, compromising the independence of the RBI, firing trained economists like Dr Raghuram Rajan, Dr Arvind Subramanian, Dr Urjit Patel etc. and replacing them by Hindutva apparatchiks and yes-men, appointing a nutcase like Adityanath as UP CM – to name a few. Indeed, an objective analysis of 15 economic indicators comparing the worst period of Dr Manmohan Singh with the best period of Narendra Modi would reveal that on 11 out 15 indicators, the Manmohan Singh period produced better results, see ref:

      In any democracy, the politicians who hold power must be held accountable for delivery of growth and development. But sadly, bhakths like you behave like fans of actors or members of religious cults who see no flaws in their leaders. Allowing thereby the leaders to escape from the responsibilities whilst deceiving gullible people like you who wish to be deceived !

      As the Italian political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli (146-1527) once said:

      “One who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived”

  29. India’s economic situation – pre and post Covid – is so grim, the economic team requires world class talent. A blend of economists and administrators, as National Interest detailed. However, without discounting this fact and without necessarily subscribing to a formulation that hard work is better than Harvard, the things that need to be done to set things right are not rocket science. Privatisation. A phased withdrawal of subsidies that are doing more harm than good. A curtailment of administrative expenditure. A less intrusive role of the government in the working of the economy and private businesses. 2. Why the Indian economy has been run into the ground is something I have never been able to understand. What the priorities have been, superseding the imperative to raise growth rates sustainably in a desperately poor country, is something senior journalists like the Editor are in a better position to analyse. However, unless drastic course corrections are made, we are on track for a completely wasted decade.

    • So, you have stopped using the word “anti-nationalist” ? Why don’t you call him a “traitor” too?….you stupid moron !!

    • Illiterate is how you sound vk, do you have the wherewithal to critique the article without getting personal? Didn’t think so.

  30. The leadership is as good as the team. If the chosen team lacks the political wisdom no one can help. First off all one need to understand political parties fight elections with lots of promises and a manifesto which will provide everything free. Once the elections are over their perspective suddenly changes. No one is really worried for the economic condition of the country. They will only worry about their re-election. Every good things happens by default. So hope the turnaround happens for the good. Beurocrats or no beurocrats the corona virus taken us all by surprise and has already dented the global economy beyond repair, at this juncture it is the collective wisdom that will work keeping the interest of our country.

    • Hello ,

      It’s the other way round. The team is as good as the leader. I would recommend some good books such as Good to great, extreme ownership to you. When you read the latter, you will realise.

  31. Excellent rebuttal. Mr Shehar Gupta off late has been very kind to Modi. His daiky youtube videos too never highlighted failures of lockdown and plight of poor. Wither he is getring ideologically aligned or may be the funding apttern reflects in his thinking

    • …Or maybe you’re sorely mistaken…I remember many a #CutTheClutter and other articles where he has criticised the Modi government handling of migrant workers and playing politics during Covid crisis.

    • Something I agree with. Also I note that this change came about two years back when VK Singh said there will be probe in the supposedly coup in 2013.

  32. As debates on secularism, intolerance, nationalism, economy etc lose steam, Shekhar Gupta has given a new area to Modi haters to debate and find faults about Modi. Irrespective of all these tricks, Modi’s standing among voters is all time high.

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