This Fine Balance May Decide The Pace Of Economic Reforms: A Lesson From Narasimha Rao

18/08/2016 1:21 PM IST | Updated 22/08/2016 9:12 AM IST
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In a political leader, expertise in administration and popularity are two completely different attributes. There are rare situations when someone scores high on both fronts, but usually these talents don't come together in a perfect proportion. The issue has come under discussion in India since independence -- for example, it is widely held that while Pandit Nehru was certainly a more popular leader, Sardar Patel was a better administrator. Then there's Morarji Desai, who may not have been the most popular among his contemporaries but was always considered an administrator par excellence. Rajiv Gandhi was extremely popular at least in the period between 1984 and 1989, but many people think that he could have caught up in the administrative front as well in his second term, had he not been tragically assassinated in May 1991.

It's necessary for the government to tread a fine line between "popular" and "correct" in everything it does if wants to come back to power in 2019.

Back to the present, the ideological and political opposition may be able to find a lot of faults with Prime Minister Narendra Modi but even his most die-hard critics would have to agree that he is very popular and a proven administrator. He has built up the kind of pan-India appeal that has proved elusive for other able administrators heading various state governments. As I noted earlier, "popularity" and "expertise in administration" don't come equally and even in a state like Bihar, where Mr. Nitish Kumar has earned much praise as the Chief Minister, it was the RJD of Mr. Lalu Yadav which won a greater number of seats with an astonishing strike rate of almost 80%.

So, why does this matter? There is a well-established set of CMs whom the BJP central leadership can't really shuffle but in the states where the party has come to power recently or will be facing elections in the near future, it will have to find a balance between those who can win elections and those who will be better in delivering administration. And, therein lays the dilemma for the Modi-Shah leadership. The BJP needs popular local leadership to win elections but once in power, they have to deliver on the good governance promise. Some critics who would see shades of Mrs. Indira Gandhi in Mr. Modi may also argue that since the PM doesn't want too many strong regional leaders, he would not risk giving the leadership of state governments to leaders with more mass appeal.

At this point, no one can really tell conclusively whether the thought process of the BJP's central leadership is driven by insecurity or the need to find a balance between "popularity" and "good administration", but the composition of the government at the Centre does allow for some speculation. Apart from inducting strong, popular leaders in the Cabinet where the PM didn't have much choice, he has carefully chosen other senior ministers who may not have a strong popular base but are believed to have a good track record. Looking at it slightly differently, it's necessary for the government to tread a fine line between "popular" and "correct" in everything it does if wants to come back to power in 2019. This is not to say that "popular" and "correct" never merge, but it's rare.

We hail Narasimha Rao as the architect of economic reforms in India... but the fact also remains that he lost and didn't get re-elected in 1996.

The entire history of economic reforms in India since 1991 holds many political lessons but among them, perhaps the most important one is from Mr. P V Narasimha Rao. On the silver jubilee of economic reforms this year, we hail him as the architect of economic reforms in India and someone who changed the course of the nation and its history but the fact also remains that he lost and didn't get re-elected in 1996. So, all those who expect the government to move faster on reforms after GST need to have a little bit of patience. There is a balance which needs to be maintained between "popularity" and "good administration" and that is not always easy.

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