Business of politics: Should Modi govt be a T20 cricketer or a Test player
By Pankaj Sharma
In an address to a select gathering where Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also present, Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam last week highlighted how India as a country is still operating at sub-optimal potential. In an analogy befitting a cricket-crazy nation like us, Shanmugaratnam compared the current pace of reforms with scoring singles on a batting-friendly wicket.
This is certainly worth taking note of, considering this statement is coming from someone who is not only a politician but has also excelled in other areas. Shanmugaratnam had a distinguished career as a policy maker and also worked as chief executive with the Monetary Authority of Singapore even before he entered politics.
This is not a defence for what the Indian government is doing on reforms and can it do better. But some of the key areas of concern that were highlighted in this address as stumbling blocks really had very limited role for the central government to play.
Land reforms and developing a better system to replace archaic labour laws are important, but the states need to come on board here. India is not just a large, diverse, hugely populous and complex country, but also has very strong state governments, which command considerable power and there are a lot of areas such as land and labour laws where support of the states is essential to bring about any meaningful change. And this is easier said than done.
Let’s look at what happened with GST. Though the Congress was opposed to this bill and many state governments were also not very excited about it initially, this opposition was not really based on “ground feedback” from voters. Essentially, GST was largely a non-political issue as far as opinion of the ordinary voter was concerned, and though many political groups were highlighting the loss for the common man as the reason behind their opposition, GST was really not an issue where one could mobilise popular opinion in a big way.
Apart from a regular mention in manifestos, it was not something you could strike a chord with a substantial part of the population.
Land and labour are completely different things altogether. There would be enough incidents to draw lessons from when political mismanagement on these subjects led to huge electoral losses for political parties and politicians had to tread with caution. The huge resistance to attempts for changing the land bill by current central government would be just one of them.
Similarly, there are enough political groups in India which still have socialist ideologies and even if you are not a socialist and your ideology would have undergone a metamorphosis over the past decades, you as a politician can’t really afford to be seen as anti-poor. There is hardly any doubt that the memory of spectacular failure of the “Shining India” campaign and the expected debacle of the NDA in the 2004 elections would be fresh for the BJP stalwarts.
Coming back to cricket analogy, the process of economic reforms in a country like India is much more like a Test match and less like a T20 or a 50-over ODI. Scoring quickly is important, but there is enough time available with the opposition to bowl you out if you are taking far too many risks.
So, play well and play fast in order to score quickly, but always keep an eye on the political implications of your decisions in a democratic setup. This applies to economic reforms equally. May be, this is what Modi would have told Shanmugaratnam in private.
Scoring singles is fine as long as you stay on the wicket for long enough to score a hundred. Ask any politician, a hundred scored in 130 deliveries is better than a quick-fire 35 off 20 balls.
(Pankaj Sharma is Head of Equities at Equirus Capital. In this column, he looks at political developments within the country and analyses their impact on the country’s economic policies and financial markets. Views expressed in this article are his own and do not represent those of ETMarkets.com)