Prime minister Narendra Modi has still 59 months left in office, to face public scrutiny, but the expectations generated during the election campaign, has put every action of his under the scanner. As he completes one month in office on Thursday, with the nation still waiting for his big economic policy changes senior-most bureaucrats say they are under pressure to charge, what they call Modi Meter. This Modi Meter generates a kind of an announcement-a-day fervour.
Modi has not only set targets for every ministry, but is controlling or keeping an eye on everything. There was never a doubt that the fulcrum of power would return to the PMO and it has happened in double quick time so much so there does not seem to be any other ministry around. Senior officials recall such a focal PMO existed only prior to 1989, when Rajiv Gandhi and his mother Indira Gandhi were at the helm of affairs.
A bureaucrat said the government has been so far busy with hammer and chisel to create a new order in the administration. In the quest, it has left various issues unattended. In fact there are too many issues on which decisions are awaited and most of them will leave the collective national heartbeat wobbly.
High inflation still rages, but some chief ministers, even though from opposition ruled states, have found Modi's actions, especially his attempt at backing or strengthening the federal structure by curtailing powers of the Planning Commission, laudable. A non-BJP chief minister, who met the PM recently, was all praise for Modi. "When I was looking at the watch to figure out the time left for my meeting, he told me not to bother about time and apprise him of issues in the state in detail," the CM told dna.
Modi's working style is being sussed out by everyone. "There is perceptible difference between his working style and his predecessors," the chief minister who had interacted with AB Vajpayee as a minister and then as political head of a state with Manmohan Singh.
Modi has also told his ministers and officials to immediately reply to communication sent by chief ministers. Officials in the PMO have been asked to meet state government officials once in three months. After his first meeting with the secretaries, where he harangued them to reduce time in delivering results, cut down on red tape, and ensure greater accountability and efficiency, he also instituted a special cell in the PMO to monitor the resolution of complaints.
The PM will also meet the service chiefs every month to take stock of defence preparedness. He has already asked them prepare a list of weapons they want and also suggest how to best use funds. On the economic front, to contain food inflation, the new government has announced the decision to sell huge stocks of rice in the open market.
Mostly, Modi has remained fixated about incorporating administrative reforms to gain efficiency. His decision to dissolve the large number of groups of ministers and limiting inter-ministerial consultation to a maximum of two weeks are aimed at speeding up decisions.
The PM has created three rings around a cabinet minister — the minister of state, the personal secretary and minister's personal staff, all appointees of the PMO to prevent scams from happening.
PMO appointments were however unusual. An ordinance was introduced to change the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act and enable former Trai chairman Nripendra Misra's appointment as principal secretary to the prime minister. Another top-level PMO appointment, of Rajiv Nayan Choubey as additional secretary was cancelled within a week due to hierarchy issues.
The Modi Meter, however, faces stiff challenges in term of a weak monsoon, Iraq crisis that may spur oil prices and continuing public outcry in the wake of tough decisions to revive economy. Many believe his plan to accentuate return of Kashmiri Pandits by setting of three exclusive towns in south, centre and north Kashmir for the community may backfire, for want of preparations.
There is already a communication firewall, visible in various ministries and government departments, which dampens the spirit of vigour. For example, when the media wanted an update on the DU-UGC tussle, HRD minister Smriti Irani said: "I'm not at a liberty to talk." Information and Broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar, however, has assured that form next week the ministers will be accessible and will communicate. "There was lot of work to be done. From next week you'll find ministers talking to the media. It will not be one way communication. We will listen (to you) also," he said.
Soon Javadekar will have to communicate some good news.