We seem to have forgotten in India that the state was created to act. It should not take eight years to build a road in our country when it takes three elsewhere; it should not take 10 years to get justice when it should take two; it should not take five years to acquire land or gain environmental approval. During the past decade, executive decision-making has been paralysed in Delhi, gridlock has prevailed in Parliament, and the courts have routinely dictated action to the executive. These are symptoms of a weak state. Can Narendra Modi, the new prime minister, change this weak state and enhance its capacity to act? This question is uppermost on the minds of Indian men and women who have elected him with an unprecedented majority.
India’s economic rise over the past couple of decades has been a remarkable event that has lifted tens of millions out of abject poverty and is rapidly creating a solid middle class. But it is a story of private success and public failure. Prosperity has been achieved in the face of appalling governance. Indians despair over the state’s inability to deliver the most basic public services—law and order, education, health and clean water. India desperately needs honest policemen, diligent officials, judges who give swift justice, and functioning schools and primary health care centres.
Where it is needed, the Indian state is near absent; where it is not needed, it is hyperactive, tying people in miles of red tape. Hence, many Indians cynically sum up this paradox of private success and public failure with an aphorism: “India grows at night while the government sleeps.” But how can a nation sustain economic growth over the long term with a weak, flailing state? Shouldn’t India also grow during the day? The recent economic slowdown may well be a symptom of the limits of growing in the shadows.
A successful liberal democracy is based on three pillars: It has a strong central authority to permit quick, decisive action; it has a transparent rule of law to ensure that this action is legitimate; and it is accountable to the people. These pillars of the classical liberal state were originally conceived by our founding fathers. But building such a state is not easy, as the pillars do not reinforce each other and sometimes even undermine each other. While an aggressive civil society and media have enhanced accountability in India recently—for example, through the Anna Hazare movement or the Right to Information Act—the state’s ability to act has been undercut, ironically, by society’s success in making the state accountable.
With Modi’s rise to power, expectations have grown that India may finally have a strong executive which will enhance the state’s capacity to act. Some, however, fear that Modi might do this at the expense of undermining the other two pillars of a liberal state. Generally, Leftists desire a large state and Rightists a small one, but what India needs is a strong, efficient and enabling state with a robust rule of law and accountability. A strong liberal state is efficient in the sense that it enforces fairly and forcefully the rule of law. It is strong because it has independent regulators who are tough on corruption and ensure that no one is above the law. It is enabling because it delivers services honestly to all citizens. It is a rules-based order with a light, invisible touch over citizens’ lives.
Can Modi deliver such a state so that India can begin to grow during the day? Certainly, for the first time in its history as an independent nation, India seems to have a PM with the requisite leadership skills. Modi’s defining qualities are a sense of purpose, accompanied by attention to detail, backed by plenty of grit and fierce determination. These are quintessential abilities of an implementer, someone who knows how to get things done. We saw these qualities in abundance during his election campaign, and if he runs the country as well as his campaign, we have good reasons to be hopeful. The answers to India’s problems have less to do with new ideas and new laws and more to do with implementing old ideas and old laws.
Can Modi do the same? It will require more than executional capability—it will need political savvy to fight vested interests among politicians who are beneficiaries of the status quo. The manner in which Modi has quietly taken control of his party suggests that he might have this ability. He has dramatically transformed BJP’s lacklustre economic thinking and given it a single-minded focus on investment, jobs, skills and growth.
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(This story appears in the 22 August, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)
problem is with culture, how many trader believe, that it is my duty to give the product what my customer need, every Indian is doing some job from which he receives livelihood, how many consider his job is not simply for money, but he is one way or other way, makes his society peoples life batter, and this he should do with his utmost capacity, obviously good and efficient politician improve culture,even good political system improve culture, we can hope that this people will succeed in improving culture, and make more people socialy responsible.on Aug 12, 2014
Sri Modiji\'s capacity as a strong and able administrator had been continuously questioned by media as if all the Congrees family rule were extreamely efficient.Otherwise why this doubt ? If his success as a chief minister is any indication I am sure he will take his country to unimaginable progress.Pl give him minimum 3 years and then comment.on Aug 11, 2014