What is Modi’s legacy?
All Indian prime ministers who have served five years or more have a signal, turning achievements to their credit. I will exclude Nehru from this list. Nehru was the creator of modern India. Period.
The Hindu right is trying to destroy its heritage, but that only makes it bigger. Indira had 1971. Rajiv computerization, Rao economic reforms, Vajpayee road construction, Manmohan Singh’s high growth rate. What does Modi have?
The Prime Minister has a few accomplishments to his credit. Sanitation. Swachh Bharat, Balakot. But much more was expected from this messiah. Covid has revealed that India is truly a third world country.
Our high bureaucracy is a mess. Our medical infrastructure too. Crony capitalism reigns on the earth. Corruption is eating away at our electoral system. The Prime Minister still has three years for his second term. If he took even one problem and got over it, he would have done a lot to remember him.
No one can deny success or failure. The Indian civil service ruled our land during the Raj. The officers of the ICS were singularly devoted to the king and to the country. Their country, England, not India. They were above corruption. Many did not even get married. They have served England well. The Indian Administrative Service has existed for three quarters of a century.
India still remains a third world country, with more poor people than all of sub-Saharan Africa combined. It is clear that the IAS has failed. It must be reformed, root and branch.
A model could be that of Singapore. Singapore sends its best students to the United States to study on a full scholarship with an obligation that they will return to Singapore and serve its government. Look at where Singapore is today. Look where India is. Many IAS aspirants spend years assaulting obscure history texts and pass the exam.
But this training does not prepare them to deal with complex issues like health and energy. What the IAS needs are experts. Manmohan Singh had thought of bringing in experts laterally into the IAS, but his plans failed. The bureaucracy of the IAS will resist any change. He is too powerful and brings in too much money, for example by receiving a dowry at a wedding.
Modi has a bigger mandate for change than Singh. But he too seems imprisoned by the IAS. His party does not have much ministerial talent, so he continues to induct bureaucrats into his ministry and give them plum portfolios. India is going gaga that IAS / IFS agents are finally running the government. What India fails to realize is that the elite bureaucracy has always ruled the country.
Let’s talk about crony capitalism. Everyone knows which capitalist cronies are thriving in the country today. But some of them thrive in all regimes, be it the current one or the old regimes. Some proudly boast that the government is in their pocket.
Consider South Korea, a country that is now in the first world. It too has always been beset by crony capitalism. Its conglomerates, called chaebols, are renowned for their crony capitalism. But these chaebols have transformed and are conquering the world now. Take Samsung, traditionally a cement maker. Its electronic equipment is now sold all over the world. The same goes with LG, Hyundai, Kia and their merchandise.
Which of our capitalist cronies produces goods that are sold all over the world? They seem to be content with the captive market that is India.
Let’s move on to campaign finance reform. Money eats away at our democracy. Public funding of elections like in Germany is a must, but no political party seems to want it. Modi has a mandate to implement campaign finance reform, but he appears to have given up. State funding for elections will loosen the grip of corrupt political parties on the system and allow honest candidates to stand for election for change. The United States also has a corrupt electoral system. We are not to follow his example; we have to follow that of Germany. In any case, our political system is parliamentary and much more aligned with that of Germany than that of the American who is presidential.
Finally, our medical infrastructure. Covid has ruthlessly exposed how serious this is. Our public hospitals are in a terrible state. Private hospitals are reserved for the rich and powerful. Modi had pledged 100 smart cities at the start of his first term, but this program came to naught. Either way, it’s much easier to build a hospital than an entire city. Why isn’t Modi building 100 new, state-of-the-art, full-service public hospitals across our vast country?
When Covid arrived in India, it was the first to admit that our medical infrastructure was much poorer than the American or the Italian and therefore it was forced to impose draconian containment. India lucked out with the first wave of Covid and it once again injected complacency into the system. And then the second wave hit and showed us how much of a sham our medical infrastructure is.
So do one of these: reform the root and branch of the IAS, reject crony capitalists and force them to seek pasture overseas, reform large-scale campaign finance, or build 100 new hospitals would be enough to impose Modi’s legacy on India and breathe life into his government, which today seems lethargic and apathetic. And perhaps one landmark achievement will secure his third term as well. Right now, it seems like a distant imagination.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
END OF ARTICLE