Not since Indira Gandhi has any Prime Minister in India demonstrated a matching intrepid disposition to reform the country and its systems, and aim for transformative impact through legislation, this notwithstanding the extraordinary reforms of the first accidental PM, P.V. Narasimha Rao.
In the manner of a man engaged with the subtle distinction of a politician who eyes the next election, and a statesman and visionary who thinks of the next generation, PM Narendra Modi is true to his word when he said yesterday, "... (some) decisions and reforms may be unpleasant in the beginning, but they would bear fruit in the times to come."
From the welfare aspect of governance (introduction of Jan Dhan accounts and amplification of direct cash benefit transfers), through the economic sphere (demonetisation and introduction of GST), trying to create power equity (removal of the red lights and sirens atop VIP vehicles and enabling of citizens to attest their own documents) and social reform (abolition of triple talaq, construction of toilets) to political reform (abrogation of Article 370) as well as mobilising of the people to participate in a national mission (Swachh Bharat and voluntary foregoing of cooking gas subsidy), Mr Modi has aimed for the sky in the scale of ambition, ignoring all potential political fallout.
At times, he has tried to initiate change in areas most others have stayed away from out of fear, including reforms in the agriculture sector — viz. the now-withdrawn bill to acquire farmland to the three reforms in farm procurement and MSP, and allowing of private players into contract farming. And when he realised the pushback was incessant and unlikely to die down, he was brave enough to go on national television to publicly announce their rollback.
From the punitive surgical strikes across the border to defiance of the global mood against Russia over Ukraine, or standing up to the Chinese at Doklam, Mr Modi has never allowed political expediency or electoral calculations to diminish his zeal.
In involving youthful tech and other domain start-ups in undertaking innovation, he has his own exemplary work to back his convictions — he has built several of his reforms in near-start-up mode within the government. Add to it achievements such as power connections to the last house, building homes or toilets, augmenting the roads and highway network and increasing the LED lamp market share.
However, the Modi government errs in presenting the intent of its legislation at times, be it the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), National Registry for Citizens (NRC), or the Agnipath scheme. The lack of prior communication, adequate discussion before decision-making and absence of opportunity for various stakeholders to participate in the pre-legislative process creates doubts and, even opposition, to otherwise good ideas.
Mr Modi must be lauded for his ravenous appetite for reforming the country, and even if we disagree politically with some, or several, of them, India must not pay a price and miss the bus. The government must bring in bigger reforms, cut down bureaucracy, enable growth and jobs, and change the face of Indian cities and villages, but each time it considers an idea, it must imbue it with the optimal time for it to germinate in a democratic context.