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MODI FOR 2019!


ARINDAM CHAUDHURI | Issue Dated: April 5, 2016, New Delhi
Tags : Modi | BJP | Lokpal Bill | Arun Jaitley | Kejriwal | SIT | Arindam Chaudhuri |

Even Modi's blind devotees would agree that the absolute Modi wave that swept across India in 2014 is on shaky grounds. And not without reasons. If a "BJP defeat will result into firecrackers being burst in Pakistan" has been construed as an attempt to polarize, then the attempt to curb the freedom of speech amongst young nonviolent students has driven away a large chunk of their student support base, who naturally don't like being told about what they can speak of. If the beef issue has had a massive effect on moderate Muslims who were still considering BJP as an option, then the poor handling of the Rohith suicide case has certainly affected their Dalit voter base. And all in all, the sum total of it all has turned off quite a large chunk of the liberal Hindus who voted for Modi, for statemanship and growth more than for the "Hindu-leader" factor.

Yet, I write here with hope and belief that the man I supported so strongly just two years back can still create the magic. Modi's worst critics will agree that Modi had the promise and the leadership ability to be that big difference India needed and what he won was not just an election but the voter's hope for a better India. They will also agree that as things stand, the question of "if not Modi, then who?" (amongst those who can get elected) is a very relevant question.

Rahul hasn't been really able to make a mark yet and Kejriwal hasn't really been able to demonstrate much in Delhi to prove to be a solid contender. Yes, the near future may change many an equation. With Kejriwal sure to shake up things in Punjab with his straight appeal, to the mothers of Punjab who are totally disillusioned with the drug problems that their children are facing. With Dalits and Muslims solidly behind him, his plan to field women candidates might prove to be a masterstroke.

Thus, it's really time for BJP and Modi lovers to forget the euphoria of 2014 and almost immediately start planning for 2019. Many wondered why I didn't come up with my alternative budget this year. Well, that's because I wanted my alternative budget proposals to be a key part of the The Sunday Indian new-look launch issue!

Thus, here we go with a plan to make sure Modi can use the remaining three years to build back his national appeal across all segments. The following seven points incorporate aspects ranging from philosophical issues to budgetary considerations.

1. Modi must transform the judiciary.

One of Modi's biggest achievements that's going largely unnoticed is that he has been surely able to curb corruption amongst his ministers with an iron hand. From governance of commission seekers to a clean government has been his biggest contribution. Every industrialist will vouch for it. But the common man has no clue about it because corruption in his daily life is rampant. Thus, Modi must have an effective PR machinery that imparts the knowledge of his good work to the masses. Additionally, Modi, in an environment of people being fed up with corruption, has to transform the judiciary.

It is shocking that the allocation for judiciary every year currently is less than 1% of the Central and State budgets. This, while new laws, increasing corruption, activism, and much more are leading to the number of cases in courts increasing tremendously, while the older cases continue to remain unresolved.

As I often state, corruption can only be reduced by ensuring that the judiciary becomes more effective. If the corrupt are confident that they can delay their punishment indefinitely due to cases languishing in courts for years, then corruption will definitely keep increasing. We need to change this immediately. Corruption is a worldwide phenomena; but then, it affects lesser people in countries like America because the judicial system in these countries is functional.
In America, for example, the number of judges per million people is ten times more than the figure in India. Going by that benchmark, we would need about 100,000 additional judges. Even though this looks quite a large figure, this can be achieved in five years. Taking a ballpark figure of Rs.30,00,000 being the investment required per year to set up one additional judge and his office assistants, if we were to plan to have 20,000 additional judges per year, we would have to budget approximately Rs.6,000 crore per year.

So Modi must announce the allocation of Rs 6,000 crore for the judiciary in this coming fiscal, and should plan to allocate Rs 10,000 crore in the subsequent fiscal. Not only should the Law Ministry work hand in hand with the Supreme Court and respective High Courts to finalise a plan for quadrupling the number of judges very soon, but a set of guidelines should also be drawn that could encourage litigants, lawyers and even judges to settle cases in a definite time-frame – something that has been practised very successfully in Income Tax scrutiny cases, where the decisions of Income Tax officers are time-bound.

These straightforward moves have the power of transforming governance. Think about it; if the corrupt start fearing quick judgements and as quick a confiscation of their properties and assets, the general tendency to veer towards corrupt practices will go down considerably. I believe this is far more practicable an approach and would work much better than an almost forgotten Lokpal Bill.

2. Focus on employment generation schemes to give people dignified existence.

The 2016 budget had a wonderful vision. And it seems Arun Jaitley already has 2019 in mind. I haven't heard of a budget speech ever talking about doubling farmers' incomes in five years. That's the best thing Modi can actually do to secure 2019. However, there were no concrete steps to back this wonderful statement and I hope it doesn't end up remaining just that – a statement.

So here is what he must do.

Modi must increase the allocation for rural India, specifically for farmers, by Rs.100,000 crore a year. The reason I mention such a huge figure is because rural India needs the creation of 150 million jobs for immediate improvements in economic and lifestyle indicators. As a committed government, we should take five years rather than 65 years as a deadline to achieve this. In other words, we have to create 30 million rural jobs per year. In rural India, a job can still be created by investing about Rs.33,750 per job. This would justify the need for additional investment of Rs.100,000 crore per year.

Half of the money thus allocated should be invested in building or improving physical infrastructure in rural India (irrigation facilities, roads, cold storage facilities, electricity transmission and much more). The other half should be targeted towards improving rural social infrastructure (access to education, health and sanitation). Investments in physical infrastructure would dramatically improve rural India's productivity levels, and ergo would result in higher income levels for farmers.

Social infrastructure investment would radically improve human development indicators in rural India. And of course, both such investments will create jobs and work towards removing the massive rural unemployment levels.
But having said that, one should not forget the urban unemployed. We need 25 million new jobs in urban India. The investment required to create one job in urban India is much higher than that required in rural India; and the same comes to approximately Rs.240,000 per urban job. Subsequently, to create 25 million jobs in the coming five years (at the rate of 5 million new urban jobs per year), Modi should allocate an additional Rs.120,000 crore for the urban unemployed.

3. Modi must have a slum removal program implemented and achieved before 2019.

There can be no Swachh Bharat with people living in slums. The urban poor need dignity of existence, a roof to call their own, not slum dwellings which could be showcased by future movies akin to Slumdog Millionaire. The best part about deciding to remove slums is that it can happen literally in no time and has a huge, visible effect. Imagine, in the next three years, a country without slums. And recorded evidence being aired as concrete proof of achievement. In fact, slum removal is such a potent election strategy that post that, Modi won't need to spend on campaigning. His work and commitment would be most visible.

For that, Modi would need to budget in another additional Rs.24,000 crore per year for the next five years in order to create 15 million urban flats (of minimum 250 square feet each).

4. Focus on education and healthcare.

Without investments in education and healthcare, our big hope of catching up with China will remain just a dream. Modi respects the Chinese model and has studied it. It is abhorring that public expenditure on health and education in India currently is less than 2% of GDP – subsidies and exemptions take up much more than that. Modi needs to ramp up allocation double quick in projects like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan and National Rural Health Mission. But this has to be matched with efforts to improve governance and reduce corruption. For a more detailed analysis, do read the Alternative Budget proposition that I had drawn up at the start of this decade ('A Budget for Three Idiots'; Like I mentioned before, the recommendations I had made in that proposal then, are even more relevant today.

5. Legalizing black money.

One of the biggest criticisms of Modi has been his demonstrable failure on his promise to get back the black money stashed abroad. He must achieve that in the next three years. And it won't happen with 45% taxes as proposed by Arun Jaitley in this budget.

I have suggested this in the past too; and shall suggest it again verbatim – we should legalize all the black money stashed abroad by structuring a consolidated tax payment of 10% on the black money amount. To sugarcoat the offer, even this 10% could be taken in five equal annual installments of 2%!

But this has to be with two key riders! The first one is that the government must ensure that it takes persuasive and decisive action to recover the black money stashed abroad from day one. In this, the government should also ensure that all the black money recovered after one year of the grace period will be nationalized lock, stock and barrel.
The second rider is that the government must commit that in the future, there would be structural and financial firewalls to ensure that stashing black money abroad becomes absolutely impossible. At the same time, if there is a functional judiciary, punishing black money holders efficiently and quickly – and thus dissuading future black money transactions – will be an easy task.

Let me put all this in context in the background of the government last week setting up an SIT (Special Investigation Team) to investigate various black money cases, on the orders of the Supreme Court. Some of the current estimates of black money abroad are as high as Rs.75,00,000 crore. If we could legalize all this using the framework suggested above, look at the possibilities – a minimum 10% (or Rs.750,000 crore gross) could come into the government's kitty in the next five years (that is, Rs.150,000 crore per year); this, apart from the fact that the principal bulk of black money would also come back into India. All this would provide a huge support for the investments required to put into action the allocations I had suggested in my previous editorial, and for other government projects too.

6. Modi must go back to his 'toilets before temple' philosophy.

That's one of the lines I loved most from Modi. Somewhere, in the pressures of politics, I guess that statement got lost, and in fact misused. In the name of toilets, high cost plans were laid down... yet, these are yet to see the light of the day. And Swachh Bharat has become a joke. While no one really can see any change in cleanliness standards, the ads are only increasing, giving the public a feeling that the general idea is to focus on non-core and non-economic issues and keep them befooled.

The truth is, it takes courage for a Hindu leader to say in India that he believes in toilets before temples. It's a philosophy. It's what can change India. It means my heart lies with the poorest of poor who don't even have toilets at home. It automatically makes BJP a pro-poor and thus pro-Dalit and pro-Muslim party. These are the two key problems BJP has always had – a lack of a clear cut vision for the Dalits and Muslims of India. Let's really see the toilets coming, and instead of ads of Swachh Bharat, let's have ads showing proof of change.

May I add that a positive campaign focusing on the core philosophy of RSS – like its belief that the Hindu philosophy of universal brotherhood could never be achieved because of the caste system – would help. How many Indians actually know that the RSS has been against the caste system, as well as against untouchability? Even the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, during one of his visits to an RSS camp, praised its disciplined life and stand against untouchability!
Let RSS be the force behind implementation of the "toilets before temples" philosophy and give itself a new image, while leading the way in the complete removal of caste system and untouchability from India. After all, who are the people who still don't have access to toilets in India?

7. Modi must back up his statement that the only religious book he believes in is the Constitution of India.

That's another statement of Modi that India has never heard. This statement means that Indians would have the right to freedom of speech and life. It also means secularism would be a non-compromisable fact of every Indian's existence.
Repeating this line a few more times and making his entire set of lawmakers understand it and blindly abide by it would go a long way in winning the minorities and reining in the Hindutva forces focussed on making Narendra Modi lose his growth focus and connect with masses.

And the beauty of Hinduism is that the more he wins the minorities, the more popular he will get amongst Hindus too as a Hindu leader.

The fact of the matter is that Modi can't become a truly national leader without winning over the minorities, specially the Muslims in this country. He can't just let Arvind Kejriwal sweep them all away with his broom. I am reminded of a few lovely lines written by Rajdeep Sardesai sometime back: "If he (Modi) really wants to end the trust deficit with the Indian Muslim... why doesn't he take a short trip to Citizen Nagar, a Muslim basti on the edges of Ahmedabad, where hundreds of riot-affected refugees live in near sub-human conditions next to a large garbage dump. If he can truly rehabilitate them and make them feel a part of Vibrant Gujarat, he will have won their hearts. And possibly the mind of the average Indian Muslim." I believe it's time for Modi to do this.

I do hope this seven-point plan is implemented by the Modi government in the next three years. If that happens, nothing can stop "Modi for 2019" being a reality.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017