Modinomics revisited


Rajiv Kumar


317 pages; Rs 599

Rajiv Kumar is a familiar face as economist and columnist, with impressive academic credentials. He is currently with Centre for Policy Research. He is also a personal friend.

In terms of the structure, Mr Kumar has produced a most unusual book. The table of contents mentions the chapters but does not number them. Spread over 317 pages, there are five chapters. We can ignore the first chapter, because that is a brief introduction on the May 2014 electoral outcome. After Chapters 2, 3 and 4, we have an appendix, roughly in the middle of the book, that comprises a listing of what various ministries have done since May 2014. I didn't quite understand why it is located there, perhaps to indicate a clean break between Chapters 2, 3 and 4 and what comes thereafter. You almost get the feel of reading two different books.

The second half of the book has Chapter 5 and an epilogue, followed by another appendix. This second appendix is a compilation of Mr Kumar's newspaper articles on the 2016-17 Budget. This doesn't seem to be at all relevant for the themes in the book. I know the writer too well to think that this apparent randomness is due to chance, bad editing or an attempt to make the book longer than it should be. There is a deliberate design but I couldn't figure it out, just as I didn't understand why the chapters are unnumbered in the table of contents. There is a stream of consciousness feel to the entire volume and this must be part of that intention.

Chapter 2 is titled "Ideals, Ideology and Influences" and deals with the period before Narendra Modi became chief minister of Gujarat. This doesn't have material that is new or unknown and draws extensively on earlier books by M V Kamath and Kalindi Randeri, Andy Marino, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, Sudesh Verma and Madhu Kishwar. Having immersed himself in these biographies, Mr Kumar gives us the core biographic details and lists 14 "principle [sic] drivers of Modi's behavior". He adds, "It will be interesting to examine if some of the traits enumerated have found their expression in Modi's administration over 12 years in Gujarat".

With that, Mr Kumar takes the reader to Chapter 3, where the Gujarat model is examined. He begins this chapter by giving us some information to which the world in general is not privy: "Modi also did not agree to finalize and announce BJP's Vision Document, for the preparation of which the BJP's national executive had set up a seven-member committee of party seniors, chaired by Nitin Gadkari, the former BJP president."

The Gujarat model has been written about a lot, in the form of both books and papers. However, for two reasons, Mr Kumar offers value addition. First, he has clearly visited several parts of Gujarat and uses his own economist's lens to examine some of the issues. Second, though this chapter is about the Gujarat model, Mr Kumar throws in nuggets he has picked up along the way. For instance: "It is reported that he (Modi) himself advised one of his senior bureaucrats in Gandhinagar to do a PhD, which the officer completed in Vedic studies. The bureaucrat has then gone to on hold important positions in the Ministry of Finance in the central government after Modi took over as the PM."

Chapter 4, titled "Lutyens' Delhi", is about the chief minister of Gujarat becoming prime minister of India. There is the expected listing of what the government has done in the first two years. It is useful to have all this in one place. However, Mr Kumar also gives us his perspective on what is going on, as feedback "to be used for necessary mid-course corrections".

He writes: "Modi has, for some mysterious reasons, consciously dispensed with the prime minister's economic advisory council; abolished also the national manufacturing competitiveness council; not appointed a professional economist in the PMO, as also not a media adviser; and also replaced the erstwhile planning commission with a rather sharply-pruned reincarnation in the form of NITI Ayog [sic]…There might be merit in having regular access to a variety of opinions and inputs, especially when one is on a learning curve. If he has such outside opinion, these are kept well away from the public eyes….Those who may have some access and inside information and use this to criticize the government are perceived and lampooned as suffering from 'sour-grapeism'….There is now at least a perception, whether based on facts or otherwise, that the PMO even monitors the behavior of ministers and senior officials on a regular basis and is not shy about pulling up the errant persons on relatively minor issues as well."

In Chapter 5, Mr Kumar tells us why he believes Narendra Modi is an extraordinary man. In addition to the pending reform agenda (which really belongs in an earlier chapter), he offers Mr Modi personal advice, including the sartorial. "Where he has shown a degree of fallibility is his sartorial panache… But now Modi seems to be over conscious of his qualities, which he displays and propagates with aplomb."

As you will have gathered, there is a lot of material in this volume. There are many books being authored on Mr Modi and Modinomics. Before another author proposes such a book, take a look at this one to see if yet another volume is justified.

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