Modi @ 1 – a departure from rights based policy making

Modi @ 1, Modi 365 have been the dominant trends in the past week. Every media house was up in the arms to grab the attention of its audience through sound bytes from ministers, leaders of the ruling and opposition parties. Major focus of all these interviews and debates has been “have acche din arrived?” as if “acche din” is some sort of a train that is running late!

One could fight black and blue about statistical data, visible change on the ground, forex reserves and other parameters but there is one undeniable fact about the functioning of Modi government – its policy initiatives are fundamentally different from that of UPA. One of the biggest burden that UPA throughout its two wretched terms imposed on government machinery is declaration of additional rights. Whether it is RTI, RTE, Right To Fair Compensation, Rights for Street Vendors, Rights for Minorities, Right to work (through NREGA), FSB etc., the common thread is “more rights”. The rights based approach to governance was so deep and entrenched in the system that even Supreme Court gave out a verdict defining “Right To Sleep” as enshrined as a form of fundamental right in the form of “Right To Life” in Article 21 of the constitution. It was unnerving that a highly powerful body like the Supreme Court could deliver verdicts that could result in conflicts beyond the ordinary dispute in the street.

Almost the whole of government machinery spent time in setting up mechanisms to allow people to use these newly declared rights. Naturally, with government machinery’s focus on setting up mechanisms like NREGA, it came with huge capital cost and inefficient execution. The numbers at the end of UPA’s rule speak for themselves and declare unequivocally that UPA not just failed in governance but actually let the government machinery astray. Guided by NAC which as an institution believed in the rights oriented policy making, UPA government left no chance for government machinery to focus on administration and governance. The result at the end of UPA’s rule was there for everybody to see.

NDA came to power, needless to say, in a grim situation. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself mentioned in a recent interview to PTI, his government shifted the focus from newer schemes to fixing the inefficiencies of the government machinery. The departure from rights oriented policy making is the biggest and the most crucial change in the past 1 year. Modi government instead of declaring new rights for the people of the country focused on building infrastructure to deliver governance and building new institutions like NITI Aayog, MUDRA bank which would in turn help state governments and people to utilize that infrastructure effectively.

The departure is most visible with programs like MUDRA bank, Jan Dhan Yojana. Had it been a UPA government or a government that harbors left leaning intelligentsia, both the schemes would most certainly have resulted in two news rights – Right To Bank Account, Right To Access Affordable Finance, which at the outset mean nothing unless government can setup grievance redress mechanisms to handle where people were prevented to exercise these rights. Naturally such a mechanism cannot be a parallel authority to the judiciary. Once judiciary is involved, the redress is as good as impossible. The problem therefore compounds necessitating the government to form parallel authorities as was discussed here.

The impact can be explained sufficiently with a simple scenario. For instance, take MUDRA bank. Modi government brought together several refinancing organizations (some of which have been as old as 25 years). MUDRA bank would therefore create necessary information for people to access the right institution to refinance their businesses. If government were to pass “Right to Affordable Finance”, then the problem would persist despite it being a citizen’s right by law to get access to affordable credit for his business. Lack of awareness among SMEs across India is preventing them from approaching the right financial institution to serve their need for credit. MUDRA bank addresses exactly that issue. If it were a “right”, it would be amazing to say it and probably make a great internet meme as well but it wouldn’t solve the problem on the ground.

Most news channels failed to grasp this paradigm shift in governance model. Impact of this subtle departure from declaration of new rights towards execution means a lot for future initiatives. With thrust on institutions and execution, people of the country would get more freedom from government and would be able to take care of themselves instead of depending on government.

There is a very fundamental reason why Modi government’s departure from rights oriented policy making fits perfectly into India’s psyche. India is a duty oriented society where people sacrifice their rights to perform their duties better. Modi government pitch to make people more responsible fits perfectly into the social framework of the country. That this government is mostly likely to frame policy according to people’s needs rather than to experiment in social engineering is heartening. One hopes that Modi government would successfully make this departure irreversible by making people more responsible and government machinery more efficient.

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