If there is one thing that has become clear in the last four and a half years it is that the Modi government isn’t at all surefooted. Whenever it is confronted with a problem it tends to get rooted to the spot, simply not knowing what to do.
The ongoing tussle within the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is the latest example of this. A week earlier it was the M J Akbar problem. In both cases, the government has been perceived as hesitant and unsure of what to do next.
The mystery is that while Manmohan Singh and Atal Behari Vajpayee were known to be lugubrious in their decision making, Narendra Modi had been projected by his image managers to be quite the opposite. Instead, he has turned out to be just like them – slow and clumsy when dealing with crises of this type.
This, however, is in sharp contrast to his handling of external crises like the one at Doklam last summer or the current ongoing one with the US on tariffs or the impending oil supply problem because of US sanctions on Iran or, for that matter, even the larger issue of the balance of payments. His handling of all these and other external problems and crises has been impeccable.
So what is it that makes him hesitate so much when it comes to domestic issues? Why does he refuse to do the obvious things quickly? Why does he prefer to dilly-dally?
The answer depends on who you ask – politicians or bureaucrats. The politicians are quite clear in their opinions. These vary from Mr Modi’s incompetence to ineptitude to arrogance. Privately even the BJP politicians hint at this. But this does not jell with his competence, humility and deftness in external matters.
The bureaucrats are more charitable, even the retired ones. They say no government – meaning themselves – and certainly, no prime minister, can rush into a decision, or seen to be rushing into one. All decisions must be taken after due process, they say, whatever that process might be. Usually, this means ascertaining all the facts of the case and not being steamrollered by the media and other critics.
When it is put like this, it sounds perfectly reasonable and just. After all, a delay of a week in domestic matters is not costly on issues about which the majority of voters don’t care and which has no lasting impact on things that matter to them.
But, that said, Mr Modi has hardly distinguished himself when it comes to not rushing into decisions. His record is very patchy here.
Whether it was inviting the heads of government of SAARC countries for swearing-in ceremony as prime minister, or the dramatic demonetisation, or the hasty implementation of GST and the direct benefits transfers scheme or now, just before the 2019 election, Ayushman Bharat, Mr Modi has not shown any hesitation or lumbering movement.
And these are just a few major examples. Like the Nike advertisement that exhorts everyone to just do it. he has just gone ahead and just done it. The saying that haste makes waste hasn’t held him back. This style is in sharp contrast to his two predecessors Manmohan Singh who took his time over implementing a bad idea, MNREGA.
Indeed, if anything, Mr Modi has become quite predictable in this regard: he is completely unpredictable when it comes to effective governance. There is simply no way of telling how he will handle a situation. Sometimes he swings his bat at a good ball and sometimes he blocks a bad one.
It is this aspect, of inconsistent style, that has led critics to allege that he has lost control, not just of the government but also of the overall situation. From being seen as a decisive and firm government, the Modi government now looks permanently bewildered.
For this, no one but Mr Modi is to blame.