Monday, May 11, 2015

The Tide -- To Take or Not To Take

"There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries."
-- William Shakespeare

To gauge the efficacy of the Indian economy at a given time -- there is nothing as efficient and simple as to count the number of pages in the Ascent (the weekly job portal of the ToI). If the same has increased then the economy has improved. If not, then not. Because with improved conditions, the business houses start recruiting and that's reflected in the increased number of jobs on offer. In the times of the UPA-II, the Ascent degenerated from a thick, separate supplement to a mere 6-page extra inside the main edition itself and that too dealing with mainly teaching jobs.

In the one year of Modi rule, the number of pages of Ascent, alas, have remained the same. That means not many new jobs have been created, nor is there much hope of such creation in the short run. All this have created some amount of frustration, some alarm, in the minds of the common people, many of whom being Modi's staunchest supporters in the 2014 elections.

The main plank on which Modi was elected in 2014 was the belief that he would create jobs; would create conditions that would enable scores of Indians to pull themselves out of poverty, The middle class hoped to have a more competitive job market where he could bargain for a better remuneration. In essence, Jobs was the keyword and remains so, The focus must never deviate from that. All other things, though important, can wait for another day.

I do not doubt in Modiji's sincerity at all.  He is really trying very hard to change the ground situation, and we must allow him to do it in his own way. He has already changed a lot many things in terms of ease of doing business in India, and in many other ways; and he intends to do much more. But being in a minority in the Rajyasabha really does not help at all. It's a big impediment in passing necessary bills and it will take a few more wins in various upcoming state elections to change that.  Needless to say that this will be difficult as the easy states have already been won and the difficult states like Bihar, West Bengal, etc. are now in line. Under the circumstances, a conciliatory tone is the call of the hour. Arrogance and calling names won't simply do. In this light, the recent bonhomie with Mamata has been a very good move.

It is not for nothing that the country is not run by economists but by politicians. An economist sees only one side of the picture and has the luxury of thinking long-term. But a the politician has to assess all sides as he has to win the next election too. He has to see that steps taken towards a golden future do not crush the people  beforehand (for whom the steps have been taken), before the fruits start bearing.

In criticism of Modi, I think the "Minimum Government" thing has been a wrong concept. Neither minimum nor maximum is productive -- optimum should be what one should strive for. For example, starting with a minimal council of ministers was wrong because that overburdened the ministers beyond their capacity. Heaping two important portfolios like Finance and Defence on Jaitley was really a mistake, which resulted in the loss of precious time.

In my view, opportunity does not knock many times on one's door . If a perception sets in, reinforced by ground realities, that other than scams things have not much changed in Modi's time, NDA's winning a second time in 2019 with a majority will be much tougher. And if that happens, it will be really unfortunate for the country.

To stay on course, Modi must tread on his own path but at the same time should not shun the constructive criticism that is coming these days from reasonable people like Sucheta Dalal, T N Ninan, Arun Shourie, Swaminathan A. Aiyar, et al.  After all, paying heed to constructive criticism is a much better option than to listening to pure flattery. Public support is not a given thing and Congress party was taught this lesson not many months ago. 


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