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‘Outsider’ Modi sees battles inside govt

New Delhi, Aug. 16: On June 26, when his government completed a month in office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted a blog, part confessional and part maudlin.

He admitted that he was new to New Delhi and that “some people believed that I would take at least a year or even two to learn the intricacies of the working of the central government”.

“Fortunately, a month later that thought does not exist any longer in my mind,” Modi claimed, but added that a “big challenge” he faced in the national capital was “to convey to a select group of people about our intentions and sincerity to bring a positive change in this country”.

“These are people who are both within and outside the government system,” he said, as a pithy explanation.

The leitmotif of Modi as an “outsider inside the system” figured in his first Independence Day address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort.

Speaking in Hindi, Modi said: “I am an outsider in Delhi; I am not a person from Delhi’s world. I do not even know of its raaj-kaaj (administration and working). I have been isolated from the elite class here. But for the past two months, while being an outsider, I have had an insider’s view and I have been astonished!”

He went on: “This is not a political platform but a platform of national policy and, therefore, my views should not be measured from a political perspective…. When I came to Delhi and got an insider’s view, I got a sense of what it was and I was taken aback. It seemed as if dozens of separate governments are running at the same time in one main government. It appeared that everyone has their own fief.

“I could see disunity and conflict among them. One department is clashing with another department and clashing to such an extent that the two departments in the same government knock on the doors of the Supreme Court. Such disharmony, such conflicts among people living in the same country? How can we take the country forward?”

The Prime Minister enunciated his solution. “And that is why I have started making efforts to raze those walls. I have started efforts to make the government not an assembled entity but an organic entity: a government with one aim, one mind, one direction, one energy.”

So what were these autonomous and contradictory systems-within-the-system that exercised Modi?

A bureaucrat who had worked closely with him in the past explained that the transition from Gandhinagar, where Modi worked as chief minister from 2001 to mid-2014, to New Delhi was “nothing less than a culture shock”.

He did not count the dozens of years he had spent in the national capital as a BJP general secretary as “much of an exposure”, the bureaucrat said.

“He was not part of the central government. The view from the BJP office was a distant one. The political and governmental ambience and modes of functioning in Gujarat are simple and straight,” he said.

“Just as business in that state operates on mutual trust, to such an extent that even high-level transactions are often executed verbally, so too the administration and politics.”

He added: “The structures in Delhi are layered. The bureaucracy is entrenched. It works at cross-purposes when it needs to and in solidarity when its interests are threatened.”

A political associate of Modi believes the “Delhi system” is clouded by the existence of other institutional structures.

“You have various investigative agencies that can’t see eye to eye on a simple case. The CBI has one view and the IB has another. You have various commissions that rule over turfs although they are supposed to supplement the government’s efforts and not complicate them,” the associate said.

“On top of it, you have the NGO jholawallahs who think they are a law unto themselves. Modiji has already minimised their interventions but more needs to be done.”

However, a source said that Modi believed that the “biggest impediment” to his objectives of attaining “clean, efficient and transparent” governance is the network of dalals (fixers) in Delhi.

“Delhi is swarming with them. They attach themselves to ministers and bureaucrats in such a way that they are scarcely visible,” the source said.

“They have created a parallel economy here because Delhi is one place that has virtually no manufacturing sector and a minimal service industry. It thrives on the underground economy run by the dalals. Their interests have to be destroyed before anything purposeful can be done by the government.”

Doubts were expressed about the extent to which Modi’s own cabinet colleagues were on board. Sources admitted that barring one top minister with whom Modi had had a long and “fairly comfortable” association and the middle rung of the younger ministers, there were “question marks” over the others.