The good thing about the 17th Lok Sabha elections is that it is over. According to Shankkar Aiyar, the election schedule spanned nearly a fifth of a year during which policy decisions were effectively banned. That is a colossal social and economic cost for an aspirational India. There is much to be said in favour of simultaneous elections to state assemblies and the Lok Sabha.

There is no formula to winning elections or producing commercially successful movies. Losing is, however, easier and easily explained, too. If political parties win, it is their idea of India that has won. If they lose, it is the EVMs. For commentators with intellectual pretensions, it is not much different. In the Assembly elections held in 2018, Indians voted for secularism, but now they have become stupid and plumped for majoritarian-nationalism. For a more intelligent take, readers should refer to a blog post on ndtv.com titled Forget Exit Polls, Liberals Must Explain Why Modi Is No.1 For The Poor.

My take is that Pulwama-Balakot had an impact. Rafale did not resonate with anyone except Rahul and Ram. The aforesaid blog post put it well: The government maximized the creation of touch points with the poor, used them with efficiency, and thus made a difference to people’s lives. The Congress leadership’s dynastic backstop galvanized the BJP cadre in key states. The BJP’s organizational efficiency is a common factor between 2014 and 2019. The last, nay, lasting factor is Modi himself. In the political arena, very few have gone head-to-head with him and emerged triumphant.

The people of India have voted differently in by-elections to state assemblies that were held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha elections. This differentiated voting is a message to the BJP that people prefer a strong Union government to defend national interests and strong states that serve them well. That calls for a review of the mandate of the Fifteenth Finance Commission.

In the political-economic arena, India needs a centre-left opposition party. The Congress party can play that role provided it accepts the necessity of bottom-up rebuilding, with the current leadership making way for organic growth. That means that the BJP does not have to occupy the centre-left space in economic policies. More specifically, just as it embraced the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme, it does not have to embrace the Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY). A sizeable number of poor and near-poverty population necessitates welfare policies. However, the intelligent design of such interventions would mean empowerment over entitlement. Reciprocal obligations from the public have to be part of government support, which must come with sunset clauses.

The first budget of the previous National Democratic Alliance government presented in July 2014 was a replica in many parts of the interim budget that the previous government had presented in February 2014. That risk does not exist now, but it underscores the need for both committed and competent personnel at higher levels of the government. The experiment with lateral hires must grow from a trickle to a steady stream, if not a flood.

The right organizational structure—in the cabinet and in the bureaucracy—is central to ensuring accountability. The half-finished promise of super-ministries from 2014 must be completed now. If the cabinet shows the way in goal-setting, measurement and accountability, the bureaucracy will fall in line. Harvard University’s Howard Gardner regards Margaret Thatcher as one of the strongest post-war leaders. In his book, Changing Minds, he notes that she chose the members of her inner circle with care, conferred on them the requisite power and prestige, and did not hesitate to replace individuals when they did not measure up. The office of the chief economic advisor in the ministry of finance and NITI Aayog should become internal think-tanks mandated to speak the truth to the cabinet. They should not be critical of their employer in public. Equally, they should be neither cheerleaders nor echo chambers.

The economy is operating on a slower and more difficult wicket now. The Prime Minister needs to know the true economic picture. Therefore, the Central Statistics Office is the first place to start for establishing a transparent government. Transparent statistical methodology will lend credibility not only to gross domestic product (GDP) data, but also to the government. Timely compilation and dissemination of official data is part of good governance.

In general, economic governance needs different tactics. Acceptance of the reality is the first requirement. Communication with people is the second. Shared sacrifices are the third. Leading by example is the fourth. Being opportunistic with growth is the fifth. Tactics rather than grand strategy for short-term growth is the sixth. Not causing harm with policy is the seventh. Listening closely and carefully to the lone dissenting voice among experts is the eighth.

This column has eschewed listing policy priorities for two reasons. One, policy advice is dime-a-dozen, and two, more importantly, if the NDA III government gets the process of governance right, other things will automatically follow.

V. Anantha Nageswaran is dean of IFMR Graduate School of Business (KREA University).

These are the author’s personal views

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