‘A government that is lean but big on governance delivers.’ This is the belief with which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has begun his innings to put India back on the trajectory of high growth. It’s a model of governance he has already tried in Gujarat—basically, single-window clearance for an investor-friendly environment. At the Centre, he has taken the idea further by collapsing several ministries—like in the power sector—under the charge of fewer ministers, allowing both for a more holistic approach and minimal hindrance in decision-making. “The origin of this thinking is in our philosophy where society is considered autonomous and the government has only a limited role,” says Dr Vinay Sahasrabuddhe of the RSS- and BJP-supported think-tank Public Policy Research Centre (PPRC).
There are several think-tanks, civil society groups and NGOs identified with RSS and BJP that have emerged over the last decade or so. There’s the Friends of BJP or the group of technocrats under the umbrella of Citizens for Accountable Governance, which is reported to have direct access to Modi. Much before the 2014 election campaign started in earnest, these groups, along with several well-known economists and political scientists, started steering the discourse away from the BJP’s predominantly Hindutva image to a party that is more pro-development. It was a subtle change, and a process that is continuing, with many of the think-tanks and right-of-centre-leaning institutions rethinking their roles in the current dispensation.
Some take pains to emphasise that they are not funded by the party or are not an extension of it but rooted in the ideology of seeing India develop into a superpower over the next two decades while promoting all-round development within the country. “Narendra Modi is one of those few politicians who have stressed the need for policy-driven governance,” says Sahasrabuddhe. “Unfortunately in India, public policy as a discipline of knowledge has remained rather neglected. This is partly because policy regimes in India so far have remained lopsided and partly because, thanks to the compulsions of populism, the tendency had been to sacrifice policy at the altar of electoral politics.”
Graphic by Rahul Awasthi
Piyush Goyal, BJP national treasurer and co-founder of the Friends of BJP, points out that the group, while promoting a positive image of the party, has “also been the first to pull it up” if they found it erring. Speaking to Outlook ahead of being sworn in as the MoS (independent charge) for coal, power and new and renewable energy, Goyal said, “The group will continue to attract new talent to the political mainstream. The forum is open to new talent and thinkers. We are very inclusive in our approach.”
K.G. Suresh, editor of VIF, states that being a strategic think-tank that works in the space of national security, diplomacy, governance, the vision of a strong and prosperous India, “we have got tagged with the BJP and RSS, but our studies are open”. VIF, he adds, does not get any funding from them. “Of course, at the top level, they do take input from us on diplomacy and international relations. Even Congress leaders attend our seminars.”
Filling the space for right-of-centre ideas, Niti Central came up in 2013 with a view to provide Modi better coverage, who till then had been getting negative press. “Our endeavour was essentially to push the envelope. It succeeded. Till Modi was declared the official PM candidate, we were the sole platform covering him,” says Gupta, who recalls their website getting as high as one million hits a day during elections. With the basic objective as a member of the election management having been achieved, Gupta admits to now exploring what to do next. In defence of his news website, Gupta states that “it is not a BJP platform as all people who work for me are professionals who have consciously positioned themselves as right of centre”.
The Policy Crucibles: The Deendayal Research Institute in Delhi. (Photograph by Tribhuvan Tiwari)
Dr Anirban Ganguly, director of the Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, which operates out of the BJP headquarter in Delhi, sees considerable space for policy research in the present regime given the Modi team’s openness to new ideas that address age-old concerns on development of India as a whole.
Describing his organisation as an advocacy platform for experts and practitioners “to come together to evolve a certain position”, Ganguly says, “We have regular public programmes, not necessarily for the BJP. We try and provide various inputs and positions. It is up to the party to pick and choose.” As projected during the election, he elaborates, their call is ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’. A look at their calendar of discussions and debates since June last year gives interesting insights into BJP thinking—from national security, Article 370, to urbanisation, foreign policy challenges, etc.
BJP-affiliated civil society stalwarts are of the view that, unlike other parties, the BJP is open to “intellectual discourse”, which they hope will translate into better decision-making in the larger national interest. They argue that it’s only through academic and intellectual inputs that the government can hope to deliver better governance, not via populism.
Vivekananda International Foundation, Delhi. (Photograph by Jitender Gupta)
Not to be overlooked is the large space occupied by RSS-affiliated bodies like the Rashtriya Seva Bharati, which has over 440 affiliated NGOs working with it across the country, implementing as many as 1,38,550 projects and programmes at the last count. According to K.L. Mallya, treasurer of the organisation, none of the affiliated NGOs is funded by the RSS or BJP but their activities are streamlined and regularly audited, and regular interactions held at the state and national level to share best practices.
Rejecting fears of non-RSS and BJP civil society organisations being squeezed out, Amitabh Behar, executive director of the National Foundation for India (NFI), says, “NGOs which are ideology-driven and which are inherently opposed to the saffron culture may get sidelined, but others may not be affected.”
Given that the government has taken a very ambitious pledge of development, Sudheendra Kulkarni, aide to former prime minister A.B. Vajpayee, hopes that the Modi team will look for ideas from different sources outside government and politics. “If you look for ideas and suggestions outside, then think-tanks certainly have a role to play, as India is a diverse society where no single ideology or ideological stream has a monopoly of ideas,” he says.
Kulkarni, however, cautions that if the government wants results, it should not carry out consultations for mere formality but tap the best minds at universities, NGOs and think-tanks and other social organisations to bring about change “and not limit itself to getting ideas or advice from only a particular kind of organisation”. Drawing parallels with Sonia Gandhi’s National Advisory Council, Kulkarni feels it failed in its task by not readily welcoming ideas and suggestions from the full spectrum of institutions.
It would be interesting to watch how the Modi team negotiates its way in the socio-economic space in the days ahead. What do policy wonks advise next?
Our think-tanks (Those Hard Thinking Caps Realigned, June 9) might ask themselves a simple question: How can the government take GDP to $5 billion by 2024? They could then come up with creative ideas for achieving that goal.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
The think tanks might ask themselves a simple question : how can the government take India to a GDP of close to $ 5 trillion by 2024 and seek to come up with creative, imaginative, pragmatic ideas and advice. There will also be considerably greater inclusion at that level than is possible at $ 1.8 trillion.
The balance for India is
FISCAL DEFICIT- TRADE DEFICIT = NET PRIVATE SAVINGS. In the best case of zero TRADE DEFICIT, x% of FISCAL DEFICIT produces the same x% of NET SAVINGS. It is impossible for Modi to grow the economy one iota more than x% and all know x is 4.6 now. Rapid growth is wishful thinking by innumerates, algebraically speaking. We can refer to it as voodoo algebra.Growth of (FISCAL DEFICIT - TRADE DEFICIT) and NET PRIVATE SAVINGS are the same. I like to call FISCAL DEFICIT by the name BHAGYALAKSHMI to make its meaning more easily understood.
The GDP grows with FISCAL DEFICITS because TRADE DEFICITS also adds to GDP. When TRADE DEFICITS are small, it does not matter whether or not you subtract TRADE DEFICIT.
"What do policy wonks advise next?"
Learn algebra. And look at the balance of a money creating economy.
FISCAL DEFICIT - TRADE DEFICIT = NET PRIVATE SAVINGS.Maximize (FISCAL DEFICIT - TRADE DEFICIT ). FISCAL DEFICITS are the prime mover of the economy. Don' t be scared of deficit. It is not your deficit. In fact it is not anybody's deficit. It is a bad name for created money. Which is why I suggest a name change to BHAGYALAKSHMI.
CAUTION: Policy wonks may not know algebra. Shameful for a nation that invented algebra a thousand years ago.
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