The UPA II government, towards its last leg, drew a lot of flak for ‘policy paralysis’. The then Opposition had attributed this ‘helplessness’ of the government to the unfolding of major scams. The BJP had made ‘lack of governance’ as a major poll plank during the general elections, and it fetched big gains to the extent of catapulting the party to power. However, facts are at variance with what got projected in the high voltage electoral battle. Several major policy initiatives of the UPA government were relegated to the background. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, a lifeline of rural India; the Right to Information which opened up a gateway for the people to know the working of governments and officials at every level of administration; Right to Food Security which ensures two square meals to millions of families; Direct Benefit Transfer, an attempt to change the mechanism of transferring subsidies directly to the people through their bank accounts – all these were revolutionary policy decisions of the Manmohan Singh government that changed the lives of millions in the country.
The Modi government, which came to power with the assurance of ending the policy paralysis, did the opposite of it. Its thoughtless governance mechanism gave way to flawed policies that brought unparalleled hardships to the people. The demonetization derailed the economy and the Gross Domestic Product nose-dived to 5.7 per cent; it caused unprecedented loss of employment; it claimed the lives of several ordinary mortals. In the case of the ‘path-breaking’ implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST), lakhs of small businesses have shut down and many are struggling to survive.
The flaws and faults in both policy decisions were exposed in due course. The RBI came out with as many as 71 amendments or modifications to the demonetization order. With regard to GST, the government resorted to several cuts and prunes in the measure. Interestingly, as reports suggest, most of the benefits of GST cuts have not percolated down to those for whom it is meant for. This exemplifies how thoughtless implementation of even the best policies can go against the welfare of people. Take the example of Aadhaar card introduced by UPA government with certain noble purposes in mind. But the BJP’s stubbornness in extending it to all realms of human life has starved people to death as happened in cases wherein the poor have been denied food grains by PDS shops for non-linking of ration cards with Aadhaar cards. Informed sources say that more troubles are in store, which could hit the very privacy of individuals.
Apart from flawed policies, the Modi government has gone off the mark on its priorities. The UPA government could feel the pulse of the people, and its policies reflected the hopes and aspirations of the ordinary mortals. But, we are now seeing lopsided priorities like ultra-expensive bullet trains being pushed while basic infrastructure in transport is crying for attention. Rushing through policy decisions and implementing them without applying mind will do great harm to the people. A government that fails to keep people’s interest as a benchmark for policy decisions will be putting the cart before the horse.(Published on 20th November 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 47)