Ideas Of Governance

Modi’s Statecraft

Himanshu Roy

This paper discusses the important policy initiatives of the Modi government in the past nine years. Three broad components have been focused upon: economy, army and the administration. While the economy includes the whole gamut of social-economic life of citizens, the army represents the national security, and the administration represents the instrument through which all the development works and the governance are actuated. All the three components representing the state are to be strengthened through citizen’s cooperation. The administration has to be sensitive towards citizens; for, the Rashtra is above everything else.

He began his tenure with two immediate measures after he took over as the prime minister in 2014: he brought in an ordinance to remove legal obstacle to appoint Nripendra Mishra as his principal secretary, and secondly, brought in the appointment of the Officer on Special Duty (OSD) to the ministers under the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC). Earlier, the OSDs were not under the purview of the ACC; ministers used to bring in their confidants as OSD. In the former case, Mishra as chairman of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) was ineligible for appointment. The two acts of Modi reflected the intent of the prime minister to be decisive, and to cleanse the polity in the preceding political backdrop of the role of National Advisory Council chaired by Sonia Gandhi and of the PMO of Manmohan Singh. It was followed by meeting with secretaries of different ministries and permitting them to have access to the prime minister to expedite the formulation and application of developmental schemes, sidestepping-eliminating the procedural hurdles. Earlier, Indira Gandhi had initiated this process in 1980 which was then considered as breaking the protocol of collective governance by the Cabinet.

His office is the most digitalised, responsive, and transparent in comparison to his predecessors. As the prime minister, he has expedited and put the use of the technology to the hilt for governance in terms of actuating transparency, accountability, effectiveness and responsiveness in the functioning of the ministries and administration. It has resulted in the delivery of quality services to the citizens, and has acted as deterrence for the corrupt.

In the Modi’s tenure, the office has wider opening for new expertise; the focus is on the new.

Ideas, and new methods of their application. From electoral reforms to delimitation of constituencies and wards, from digitalising the tendering process to bringing in new entrants in administration from non-IAS category, and also from the corporate world in the ministries and departments, in the ranks of higher administrative grade, the rapid change of reforms are visible. The government offices, earlier dominated by the civil servants and power brokers, habitual to traditional methods of functioning, are now more transparent and are open to public suggestions through digital platform. In the most recent case of Uniform Civil Code, for example, the government has received 50 lakhs suggestions till date. It has led to two-way interaction: the participation in governance and the participation of the administration in understanding the public grievances and necessities. The administration has received the best of public suggestions for the best of ways to solve their problems plaguing them. The linking of Aadhar cards with bank accounts for the direct transfer of money in the accounts of the designated beneficiaries under different governmental schemes which has minimised leakage of the fund is another marked innovative administrative reform. The digital platforms have also been used to develop a connect between the citizens and the ministries and their different wings to seek the views and proposals of the public for social change; and if found feasible, the ideas have been transformed into government policy. This has minimised the wasteful expenses and de-clogged the delivery mechanisms.

The noticeable feature of its functioning, hither to, is to select honest and efficient civil servants from across the different tiers of services and hierarchies, who have innovative mechanisms of delivery, and place them in key positions; it is to weed out corrupt and inefficient civil servants, bring in new technology/ tools for transparency, involvement of citizens in policy making and minimise the role of lobbyists and middle men in the functioning of the administration. To expedite the delivery, Modi also directly interacts with the chief secretaries, district collectors of the different states, where the projects have been pending for long. The idea is to create a level playing situation to develop different regions which have been lagging in infrastructural development. The chief ministers have been suggested to share the best practices of executions of different schemes and projects in their states for universal application.

It may be interesting to learn that Modi used to consult Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore in administrative matters, and was inspired by the reformist Sayajirao Gaekwad of the erstwhile princely state of Baroda. Consequently, it has resulted into creeping digital change and other innovations forcing the ministers and the officers to be constantly on work, tracking the degree of development in each ministry and in each state where the central schemes and funds are involved. This monitoring has led to rapid execution of projects which were languishing for years resulting into completion of projects on time. The ideas on digital platforms shared by different citizens from across India are passed on to the different ministries to be analysed. Once its feasibility is approved with the collated data from the ministry, it is sent to the PMO for approval. Once approved, the ideas become the policies for application. Different policies which are applicable today are either premised on the Gujarat experience or were formulated in the past 9 years. Uday Mahurkar provides graphic details of the functioning of the team which collates the data on the digital platform of the app My Gov. and shares it with the PMO and the ministries[i]. The point to be noted here is that there are dedicated volunteers across India who assist the government. They are researchers analysing the data as a service to the nation[ii]. More interesting is the fact that the prime minister himself suggested to the citizens on this app to assess the functioning of his government in an online poll. And the numbers of citizens voting affirmatively for the policies on line have been substantively large, larger than the numbers engaged by any single media house for any survey conducted by them at different times.

The critical pubic appraisal has put him at high moral pedestal that makes him unamenable to extraneous influences of caste, religion, region, etc. He chooses his officers purely on merit, of possessing innovative ideas, integrity, efficiency, and being technology savvy. The way, the bureaucracy was functioning for itself in the states and in the preceding central governments through different kinds of lobby needed strong measures of correction and monitoring. Bringing in the OSDs and PS to the ministers under the purview of the ACC was one such earlier measures of Modi to check lobbying. His directive to his top officers in the PMO and in the Cabinet Secretariat was to identify upright officers without any extraneous consideration. The traditional methods of selecting an officer based on his Annual Confidential Report was no longer valid as ninety percent of the officers had very high grade of appraisal which had become a norm after 2008. To overcome it, a new real time rating was evolved based on due diligence learnt from the method adopted by the New Zealand government which was found to be the best. Also, learning from TATA, USA, U.K and others, four main criteria were fixed. One of it is the integrity and efficiency of the officers which are verified from the peers’ group, batch mates, seniors, and juniors. The other requirements are functional skills, domain expertise and behavioural competences. “Once an officer is cleared through this process, his or her name enters the retention pool…next the name is sent to the Central Services Board (CSB) to match his job profile… Here the secretaries of the departments are also involved. Once the name is finalised, the CSB sends it to the ACC which clears it within twenty four hours”[iii]. The process is applicable to different services which have resulted into vertical and lateral mobility of many non-IAS officers on different posts. A similar kind of due diligence and appointments are being followed in other services such for example as in banks, public sectors, para-military/police organisations, etc.

Many of the top-ranking posts in such organisations which were earlier occupied by the IAS/IPS officers are now occupied by the in-house officers of the concerned organisa-tions. It has generated a sense of belonging and commitment towards their organisations. Plus, it has also de-clogged the opportunity for vertical mobility for in-house subordinate officers.

Modi looks at the officers and the administration as a facilitator, as a delivery mechanism; the different ministries and the departments and their wings need to coordinate for an efficient functioning; and for it, he conducts regular meetings of the heads of the administration, from Ministers and Mayors of the Municipalities to DMs to Secretaries. In the process of it he has broken many protocols. The different ministries and the departments, in the name of autonomy, were, earlier not coordinating with each other which resulted into delay in their works. Or their coordination meetings were more paper works. The actual delivery was lacking. Now, it’s a team work that transcends the ministerial/departmental boundaries leading to quantum change in the performance of the administration while following the procedures strictly. Many times, to make the function smooth, the government has laid down new procedures of selection, coordination and function. One may find it interesting to note that ministers in state governments, particularly of opposition parties, write to prime minister to expedite the completion of stalled projects in their states.

The different ministries have been advised to share the development works of their ministries with the public on social media which are tracked by the My Gov. A training session of the ministries and officials was organised to explain them the procedure. Even their rating score was initiated on weekly basis[iv]. NITI Aayog equally plays an important role in policy inputs, drafting, recommending, and advising the governments including on structural and institutional reforms are suggested to make the administration transparent and efficient in delivery. It is also to create new opportunities through opening up of new vistas.

The ease of living for the citizens, particularly for the subalterns, has been rapidly actuated through budgetary allocations, plans and administrative measures. The digital platforms have brought transparency and quick response of the administration. The ease of doing business and the speed and the scale of production has been opened up to new innovation entrepreneurs.

The focus is on the import substitution by creating and generating home production of required items. Increasing the export, and invitation to investment in new technologies in India to TNCs are equally part of the economic policies of the government. The foreign policy and the Indic diaspora are the other two instruments to deepen the economic development of the country. Rashtra is sarvopari (supreme). It is ‘the organised self- interest of a whole people’, as Tagore had remarked more than a century ago, best expressing itself through Indic civilisational metaphors, symbols and political icons most recently reflected in the design of new parliament and its inauguration. It has incorporated the diversity of the bottom which is best reflected in the civilian investiture ceremonies and in the electoral support base of the Lok Sabha elections. It does not look to West for cultural modernity; rather it looks deep down to its Indic past and uses its cultural resources for its current republicanism.

Modi’s functioning style is close to that of Patel. Patel, since 1916, when he entered into the Ahmadabad municipality as elected representative to till 1950, or as the Congress Working Committee member/chairperson in 1930s, was a swift and decisive leader with precision timing while being grounded in realties[v]. Calling a spade a spade, he did not hesitate to take hard decisions while calculating the risks after all the permutations and combinations. His governance was visible in the municipality, and in the cabinet which was premised on rule of law, transparency, accountability, hard work and due diligence. He was stickler of procedure and took the collective along with himself including the administration and the Cabinet to execute the task which was primarily nation- building through different instrumentalities. Development of economy and modernisation of army were the prerequisite of it. He expected his party cadres to be ‘disciplined and responsible’ with ‘no room for parochial, provincial or communal feelings’. Combined together, these were the fundamental requisites of proper administration, including adaptation and accommodation[vi].

A study of Modi’s government policies, both at the state (Gujarat) and federal levels, of the past 20 years reflect an uncanny similarity of the two in the methods of governance deciding the priorities and policy formulation. The whole focus is on the provisions of civic amenities to the citizens, providing them health and education and livelihood opportunities development of infrastructure, industrialising the economy, security to making it efficient and sensitive towards the problem of citizens, modernising the army and keeping the nation safe. Few examples can be referred here to prove the point. The government laid down 1.77 lakh km of optical fibre in 2½ years after 2014. Before that only 358km of it was laid down in the preceding three years during the Manmohan Singh government. Similarly, the post offices in India have also begun to perform the job of the bank. The DBT is another successful operational case which has transformed the relationship between the government and the citizens. The reforms in the energy, power sector, the transfer of benefit of subsidy in fertilisers to the farmers, providing medicines at highly concessional rates to poor, opening up of new technical universities, speeding up the construction of infrastructure to prohibit the cost inflation. Comprehensive data collection and digitalisation through different legal institutional mechanisms are the other visible effects of policy measures.

The modernisation of the army, central police forces and the civil administration is another area where improvement in their working condition, and promotional avenues have been actuated in a planned way without of front to their any segment to keep them morally boosted as these are the backbone of the state apparatus.

Modi, however, has been charged for compromising on collective governance, breaking the protocols, subordinating his ministerial colleagues, elevating the ranks of his top officials in the PMO and centralising the powers of the Cabinet in the office of the PM as in the form of American presidency. The traits, it is alleged, have been existing when he was the chief minister. His cabinet (in Gujarat) meetings used to be over in 10 minutes. Then, he used to interact informally with the ministers if the need arose. He preferred to work with the civil servants and experts. The allegations, may look genuine from a distance in absence of hard information but the fact is that Modi prefers to work with people who perform, whose ideas are innovative and transformative making the system efficient and transparent providing opportunities to everyone in every sector of life. At least, his sincerity and hard work are undoubtful and his transformative mechanisms have delivered visible results over the decades both in Gujarat and in India. One may question his priorities, media spectacle, razzmatazz public display of rituals, motifs but his intent to deliver through public policies and administrative mechanisms is undoubtful. There have been few failures, but his intent to innovate, experiment with new ideas with planning, empirical data have been largely successful; and he has been stickler of the procedures which are scrupulously applied[vii].

i        Uday Mahurkar, Marching with a Billion, Penguin, Delhi, 2017, p.xli.
ii       Ibid., p.51.
iii     Ibid., p.59.
iv     Ibid.,pp.99-103.
v       For details, See Shakti Sinha and Himanshu Roy (eds.), Patel: Political Ideas and Practice, Sage, Delhi, 2018.
vi     Ibid., Chap. “Patel: Ideas of Governance”.
vii    Pranab Mukherjee, The Presidential Years, Rupa, 2021,p.155.


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Vol 56, No. 17-20, Oct 22 - Nov 18, 2023