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‘Select group’ makes Modi sweat
Big challenge on PM’s lips
- ‘Hundred-hour’ honeymoon

New Delhi, June 26: Exactly a month into office today, Narendra Modi sounded a trifle defensive and, for a moment, appeared close to playing the aggrieved victim.

“Every new government has something that friends in the media like to call a ‘honeymoon period’. Previous governments had the luxury of extending this ‘honeymoon period’ up to a hundred days and even beyond. Not unexpectedly I don’t have any such luxury,” a rueful Modi wrote in his blog.

“Forget hundred days, the series of allegations began in less than a hundred hours.”

But, perhaps keen to dispel any impression of self-pity, he added: “But when one is working with the sole aim of serving the nation determinedly, these things do not matter. That is why I keep working and that is most satisfying.”

Modi wrote that when he assumed office in Delhi, “I kept thinking that I am new to this place and some people believed that I would take at least a year or even two” to learn the ropes. But he added that the “thought does not exist any longer in my mind”.

“My confidence and determination have increased tremendously and I credit a substantial part of this to the collective experience and wisdom of my ministerial colleagues and also to my experience as a four-time chief minister. The affection of the people and support from officials have also added to this confidence in large measure,” he wrote.

However, he admitted there were “areas where surely we need to improve”.

In an apparent allusion to the face-off between Delhi University and the University Grants Commission, Modi wrote: “A big challenge I am facing in Delhi is to convey to a select group of people about our intentions and sincerity to bring a positive change in this country.”

He identified the “select group” as made up of “people who are both within and outside the government system”.

Modi, who hasn’t so far spoken a word on the controversy that has left tens of thousands of students in the lurch, added cryptically: “There have been some instances in the last month with which our government had nothing to do yet these controversies have persisted.”

He went on: “I don’t blame anybody but I surely feel that we need to strengthen systems whereby the right things are communicated to the right people at the right time. Hopefully things will change then.”

BJP spokespersons, however, have given out an impression that the party is on the regulator’s side by attacking the vice-chancellor. Some party old-timers feel the “partisan” stand has ended up eroding the autonomy of the regulator and the university.

“Sixty-seven years of previous governments is nothing compared to one month, but I do want to say that in the last month, our entire team has devoted every single moment for the welfare of the people,” Modi wrote in the blog, put up on the Prime Minister’s website this evening.

“Every decision we took has been guided solely by national interest,” went the next sentence, highlighted in bold.

Modi said the bright spot for him this past month lay in the cross-pollination of ideas at his meetings with ministers and officials “who have been making detailed presentations to me”.

“I must share that these presentations have enabled a wonderful exchange of thoughts and ideas and we have come up with excellent roadmaps for the various ministries and departments.”

He said several chief ministers had called on him and he looked forward to “working closely with them in the times to come”.

Modi’s working style, influenced by his long stint in Gujarat, has become a talking point in Delhi. The indications towards a centralisation of powers have astounded even his BJP ministerial colleagues.

More so when he called a meeting of all the secretaries and assured them that when in trouble, they could approach him directly instead of routing their problems through their ministers.

Likewise, he has quickly dismantled one of New Delhi’s most entrenched structure of power brokers, which thrived as ministers from successive governments kept drawing their personal secretaries and officers on special duty (OSDs) from the same pool of apparatchiks.

Modi stipulated that no one who had served a minister for five years could be reappointed. He vested the powers of the cabinet committee on appointments with himself and home minister Rajnath Singh, the latter being understood to be a rubber stamp.

On the flip side, Modi, who shunned populism in Gujarat at the risk of alienating Sangh affiliates like the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, seems to have realised that Delhi is a different kettle of fish.

In the past month, his government has raised the minimum support price for paddy — albeit by less than five per cent — and given interest-free loan of up to Rs 4,400 crore to sugar mills (Maharashtra votes this year). This week, it partially withdrew the rail fare hike for suburban trains following an outcry from the BJP and ally Shiv Sena.

Modi had once privately ridiculed Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav for giving away free laptops and claimed he would have charged a “token” Rs 2,000 to give the recipient a “feeling of having earned his PC”.

For such a Prime Minister, the fare rollback so early on must have pinched him hard.