Narendra Modi's First 100 Days - July 7
The Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has now been in power for more than 40 days. Expectations of reform remain high and to a large extent the new government has begun to deliver. For example, over the past few weeks, the government has instituted administrative reform by focusing on effective service delivery by ministers and bureaucrats, and pursued economic reform by actively targeting inflation as well as social reform by increasing minimum support prices for farmers.
At the same time, certain partisan moves by the government need to be watched carefully:
Politicization of key appointments
The Government has continued to nudge over ten governors, appointed by the previous government, to quit. In addition, the appointment of 22 officers – Private Secretaries and Officers on Special Duty (OSD) – who are deemed to be too close to the previous government – still awaits the prime minister’s approval, another indication of the autocracy of the Prime Minister’s Office.
These partisan moves are contrary to the expectations raised by Mr. Modi and his team in the run-up to the elections that their new government would be above petty politics.
Encroaching autonomy in the higher education space
The BJP manifesto promised to remove a four-year undergraduate program (introduced in Delhi University last year and opposed by teachers and students) if it came to power. Keeping this promise, the government asked the University Grants Commission (UGC), which is the central regulator, to intervene (by invoking special powers) and order Delhi University to withdraw the program and revert to the old three year course.
This decision has undermined Delhi University, inconvenienced thousands of students admitted to the four-year program last year and created uncertainty for this year’s applicants.
The hurried move has been severely criticized for being politically motivated and has raised questions about the autonomy of the UGC that had, only last year, approved the same program that it is now opposing.
The government has stated that it is keen to attract foreign universities (most of which offer four-year undergraduate programs) to India, however, it is creating an environment of uncertainty for stakeholders in the education space. The arbitrary handling of this matter is a throwback to the previous regime.
Social media as a single window mode of communication?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has recently become the third most followed world leader on Twitter. He has encouraged his ministers and bureaucrats to use social media actively and has set up a dedicated social media team, which will be in charge of posting updates across platforms.
This is very progressive at one level, but restrictive at another, if used as a single-channel broadcast system that discourages traditional forms of open dialogue. Governance is an iterative process, which could suffer if communication is post facto and there are not enough platforms created for questions or debate prior to decision-making.
Preference for Hindi language
The government issued two circulars, one asking the Central Government to prioritize Hindi on the department/ministry's official social media handles, and another announcing prize money to employees who do their work in Hindi.
Several regional leaders raised objections, saying that this measure amounts to an imposition of Hindi on large parts of the country that do not speak the language. In the face of severe criticism, the government clarified that the circular was meant for only Hindi-speaking states.
Given the long and sensitive history of struggle between Hindi and other regional languages in India, this decision was unnecessary and ill-timed.