Many newspapers and TV channels are discussing the 100 days of the Modi Government. Every commentator on the subject seems to have a view on how the Government should or needs to be run. The byline Achche Din Aanewale Hain (the good days are coming) seems to mean different things to different people depending on who is using it. Very few comments have been objective and based on the context, the reality and empirical evidence. One needs to appreciate that measuring the performance of public agencies is a complex and long drawn process and cannot be ‘oversimplified’ by mere survey questions or dependent on the limited knowledge of professional TV commentators/journalists. 100 days is also too short to actually demonstrate any concrete change or impact. At best, one can only comment on the intent and the direction in which the Government intends to proceed in the coming months. But this being said, it is indeed frightening to understand how ‘vague expectations’ in the minds of the common people are now turning into ‘urgent demands’. A couple of recent incidents highlight how people are extending their own internalization of a personal problem into a larger societal one.
A few days ago, I was traveling by an auto in Mysore and got into a conversation with the driver. He was expressing his anger at the state of the roads in the city and despite the approaching Dasara, how little was done to improve them. He was angry that despite 100 days of the Modi Government, the roads had not improved at all. I was both amused and intrigued at how involved he was in a civic issue, but then how limited he was in analyzing the problem. For him, driving on the streets of Mysore was an everyday necessity, and the health of his auto and himself was directly related to the health of the roads. What was fascinating was how he was seeing this problem and whom he was holding responsible for the solution? My explanation that the local city corporation and in extension, the State Government (being responsible for the Dasara celebrations) were to be held accountable did not seem to make much impact on him. Another good friend was narrating how on a recent trip to Mumbai, he got talking to a taxi driver ferrying him around. The taxi driver was lamenting that the daily traffic jams he encountered in Mumbai showed no signs of easing, despite the Modi Government completing 100 days in office. Both these incidents may seem trivial to a few, but then aren’t they the reality for these people. It is indeed fascinating how both of them were interpreting ‘Acche Din’ and the concept of good governance. Each one of us will have our own ways of understanding and interpreting the change that was assured to the citizens of India, but is it fair to merely transfer these problems to a ‘messiah’ and wait for him to wave his magic wand. Would it be fair to measure the performance of the Central Government and the Prime Minister merely based on the problems that we confront as citizens at a local level and our perceptions of the ‘good days’ that was promised.
Let us take an unbiased look at some of the key decisions taken by the Prime Minister and his Government. These are issues that only the National Government can take, but are the ones the common man cannot immediately relate to on a daily basis. His first prominent step to overcome policy paralysis was to empower bureaucrats to take decisions and to make them accountable. Despite criticisms of centralization, he has taken on the onerous task of taking charge of Government business and is involved in monitoring all ministries. Considering the track record of his predecessor, this may seem gigantic, but this is essential keeping the urgency and importance of demonstrating both efficiency and effectiveness in governance. After a longtime, we saw parliament function well and exceed all efficiency parameters and the keenness to pass key legislations was noteworthy. Launching of Digital India and Financial inclusion reflected the Government’s commitment to not only inclusive growth but also the intent of not being technologically left behind. The improvement in the investment climate, the promised investment of the Japanese and Sensex growth are all positive indicators for the economy. The PM’s intent of his work speaking for itself rather than rely on media releases is also another good development for governance. Attempts to rejuvenate SAARC and the formation of the BRICS bank, firm stand at the WTO without succumbing to global pressures and the dissolution of an outdated Planning Commission are other successes.
But one needs to go beyond all these and into the process of citizen engagement and appreciate how a quiet but visible social transformation is now occurring in the country. With the swearing in of a new Government, the people of India have clearly and consciously communicated this social undercurrent in an electorally decisive manner. It is only natural for the people to seek an expression of their personal aspirations through a public response from the Government. This expectation is further compounded by the fact that they were hoping for ‘fireworks’ and a ‘magical panacea’ for the issues that mattered to them. The current demographics and the economic aspirations of a consumer hungry, restless and impatient young population add to this collective expectation. How can any one person, despite his best attempts be held responsible for all that the citizens face on a daily basis? Can the present Government be criticized for what every political party promises during every election that they face? Should our expectation based on the ‘Gujarat Model’ be extended to the rest of India too? Isn’t running a state government where you are in greater control of the delivery framework different in context from running a National Government mandated by the limitations that a federal structure bring with it? Is it just about Prime Minister Modi and his vision and commitment to the development of the Nation and its citizens or is there something more happening?
One cannot dispute the fact that the election of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister of India is itself evidence of the undercurrent social transformation that the country is now going thru. Otherwise, how can one explain the fact that an ‘outsider’ like Modi from a very humble background and from one of the backward castes of India and without any ‘dynastic’ connections come to occupy the highest post in the country. The very shaping of the history of the nation today is outpacing the ability of the people to orient themselves in accordance with the established and existing societal values – whether it be caste, class or political dynasty. One needs to recognize that the older ways of feeling and thinking are collapsing and the newer beginnings are seemingly ambiguous and possibly threatening to the traditionalists. The ordinary people are at a point where they are feeling that they cannot cope with the larger worlds with which they are confronted on a daily basis. Their repertoire of solutions is no longer sufficient to overcome the problems that they are now faced with. It is only natural that when they cannot find and understand the meaning of their own lives, they will look to find it by connecting to a person like Modi to find meaning not only for their own existence but also for their everyday problems to be solved.
My own assessment from my conversation with the auto driver and his refusal to accept information about the role of citizens in civic issues and how local issues need to be addressed locally is different. I feel that it is not only information that people need – in this digital age; information often dominates their attention and overwhelms their capacities to assimilate it. It is not only the skills of reason that people need – although their struggles to acquire these in the backdrop of their everyday struggles often exhaust their limited energies. What they need is a quality of mind that will help them to use information and to develop reason in order to achieve lucid summations of what is going on in the world and of what may be happening within themselves. Is this practically feasible? Will this ever happen in this country? I believe that the Prime Minister should be judged not merely by his ‘Governance’ achievements but also by his ability to inspire our fellow countrymen to acquire these capabilities. If his public speeches on Independence Day or his interaction with children on Teacher’s Day are any indication, I feel that he has already set himself to this onerous and more important task. His speeches have the undercurrent of relating to the personal uneasiness and explicit troubles of individuals (unemployment, price rise, cost of fuel, personal learning) and asking them to convert their indifference into involvement with public & National issues (Clean India Campaign, Clean Ganga, societal peace, harmony, moratorium on religious divisions). His conversation with the average citizen via social media and portals like MyGOV, or the engagement on radio that he is contemplating are reflections of his thinking. While he is continually exhorting the citizenry to engage, the people need to learn to shift their perspectives from the ‘personal’ to the ‘societal’ and they need to build their capacities in order to do so. The PM is subtly asking the citizens of India to enhance the width, depth and scope of their capacity to engage with matters concerning their own development. And it is now time to elevate citizenry engagement to this level. Not doing so will be a missed opportunity and we will only have ourselves to blame, but sadly we will end up blaming the Prime Minister and his government. To be able to grow this capacity needs enormous sociological imagination. The Prime Minister seems to be showing this, but are we the common people matching upto this imagination? Only time can tell.