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HOPES BELIED

The problem with great expectations is that they are never met. The most important expectation from the new government led by the redoubtable Narendra Modi is that it would usher in reforms in the structure and performance of the government. It is no one’s expectation that these changes would be effected overnight. But there was the entirely justified hope that the first exercise of ministry-making would convey a sense of new directions, of a reformist thrust. This is precisely where disappointment begins. There is nothing in the ministries that were announced on Monday to suggest that the new prime minister is thinking off the beaten track. On the contrary, all the signs suggest that it is business as usual. The council of ministers, with a strength of 45, might appear to be significantly smaller than what existed under previous governments, but it would be salutary to remember that this is only the first round of ministry-making. There will be additions to the council soon and Mr Modi may end up not having a smaller number of ministerial colleagues than his predecessor. A significant absence is divestment.

More than size what is significant is substance. Here the reformist expectation was that there would be radical rationalizations and integrations. Nothing important along these lines has been indicated. There exists a ministry of transport but neither the railways nor civil aviation is part of that ministry. No attempt has been made to separate the assets held by different ministries from the functioning of these departments. The assets held by the railways, for example, could be put under a separate department — call it by any suitable name — that would look after the management of these assets, their valuation, the returns they bring and so on. Such a step would make for proper asset-management. The step is not as radical as it sounds. China has such a system, and also significantly, China abolished the ministry of railways last year. Mr Modi has tinkered when people expected him to change. The morning shows the day, the adage runs, and the morning that dawned for India on Monday shows the same kind of day, only the name of the helmsman is different. India will continue to expect reforms from its new prime minister who has promised dynamism. It is possible that the best of reforms is yet to be.