I am sure you noticed it. The first 100 days of the performance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government has turned into a big marketing event. This is probably the first time that some of the big media houses had employed marketing agencies to conduct nationwide surveys. The results were splashed on the front pages, and TV channels not only dissected the survey report throughout the day but also held panel discussions.
In a way, 100 Days performance, which was more or less a journalistic exercise all these years, has now been upgraded by the markets. Like the Father’s Day, Mother’s day or Valentine Day, I’ll not be surprised if 100 Days also becomes a once-in-five-year marketing ritual. Rating agencies can now find another opportunity for garnering more business.
Once the markets takeover, it is the voice of the big business that resonates. Backed by the rising stock markets, the completion of 100 days of Modi government became a perfect event for the markets to appreciate, exhort and provoke the Prime Minister to push for more investments. With respondents being drawn from different genders, age groups and socio-economic strata, as the different surveys would explain, the common thread that ran through all the surveys that I came across was the need to push for more of the same i.e. reduce subsidies, provide more sops/incentives for industry, and make land acquisitions easy and cheap.
Nothing else mattered.
In fact, the entire thrust of the 100 days marketing exercise, also evident from some of the columns that appeared in mainline newspapers, was to primarily pressurize the Prime Minister to go in for what is called the big ticket reforms. I am not sure how much weight the media blitz would have on Narendra Modi’s thinking and approach in future, but what is evident so far is that he is taking very calculated steps. The emphasis on constructing toilets and asking MPs/MLAs to use the MPLAD funds to fund its construction in schools, public places as well as for every household across the country is something that does not enthuse the markets. Nor did his strong position at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) by refusing to sign on the Trade Facilitation Treaty unless a permanent solution to protect India’s food security is found, was palatable to pro-market apologists. And I liked when he said “this decision may invite some media criticism in international and national press, but India will not compromise the livelihood security of its farmers” In my understanding that was a powerful statement for the international trading community, something that has never been said and done by the previous Prime Ministers.
Participating in several TV discussions to evaluate the 100 days performance, I had particularly highlighted the decisive role the Prime Minister Office has now begun to play. The discipline and work culture that is being demonstrated by his Cabinet colleagues has percolated to the government machinery. This is no less an achievement that the bureaucrats and officials now come in time and do not fritter away the public exchequer like the way it was being done all these years. A strong work culture when it spreads to the State governments will certainly make a difference. I am looking for the day when the bureaucracy welcomes you with a smile and attends immediately to your queries.
What comes out very clearly is the real desire to use his mandate to bring about a difference, but it cannot be at the cost of social and environmental upheavals. Containing food inflation for instance is a top priority for the government, but it does not mean punishing farmers for producing more. In the garb of keeping inflation low, the Food & Agriculture ministry has clamped down on the procurement prices blaming it for the rise on food prices. This year, while the government employees are getting 107 per cent DA allowance, farmers are penalized by almost freezing the procurement prices at the last year level.
On top of it, Food Ministry has directed the State governments not to provide a bonus over the procurement prices, and if they still do the Centre will withdraw from making procurement. In a way, this dictat goes against the election promise of providing farmers with a higher procurement price.
The taciturn approval for GM crops, and the restructuring of the public distribution system too needs to be revisited. The government cannot have a double approach of opposing WTO rules in the name of protecting farmers, and at the same time go in for autonomous liberalization as proposed by the markets. Removing procurement would spell a death-knell for farmers, and the government appears keen to do so. This is primarily because the same set of economic advisors that the Congress had in its 10 year of misrule are now back, advising the Madi government. I have always said that the people who were responsible for the crisis cannot be expected to provide a solution to emerge free from the same crisis.
From the ramparts of the Red Fort, the Prime Minister had made a commitment which needs to be applauded. While wanting India t turn into a manufacturing hub, he had spelled out that he was in favour of “Zero Defect, Zero Effect” meaning that no destruction of the environment would be allowed. But the way Ministry of Environment & Forests has gone about clearing pending projects, and also rejecting the Madhav Gadgil report to keep the ecologically-sensitive western Ghats free of mining and other harmful industries. At the same time the efforts to dilute the National Green Tribunal Act, the Forests Rights Act and the Land Acquisition laws shows that ‘zero effect’ is being openly impinged upon.
The markets would never raise these concerns. The reason is obvious. They consider environmental norms to be coming in the way of speedier industrial development. That is why you will hardly find the mainline media talking about these social and environmental impacts that the country has to be careful about. It is in this connection that I am vary at the way marketing agencies has taken over the entire debate on the performance of the Modi government. I am sure the Prime Minister would ensure that development has to be pro-people, pro-gender and pro-environment. There can be no compromise here.