Just as Barack Obama stood for change and was elected as the 44th President of the United States of America in 2009, today, in India, Narendra Modi represents a similar metaphor for change and we elected him as our 15th Prime Minister in May this year with great enthusiasm. Just as the people of the United States looked up to President Obama with great expectations, we too look up to Prime Minister Modi with expectations of miracles which will lift us out of our disappointment with the earlier government and into a land of prosperity which we believe India is.
No, we Indians aren’t idle daydreamers. On the contrary, we are optimists who genuinely believe that India has the potential to be a global leader, rising above the legacy of poverty, crime, corruption and bureaucracy that has tainted our country and has held us back in our journey. As if these weren’t enormous challenges for any Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has to immediately deal with an economy which is on a downward slide: shrinking growth, high inflation, disorderly public finances, rising unemployment, weak infrastructure, business bottlenecks and taxes which are unfriendly to the people of India.
For any leader, be it in politics, business or otherwise, this is a classic learning opportunity of challenges that leaders often face – and what finally determines the merit of the person. Recently, we, as a nation, had pinned our hopes on others, including those who had promised to represent the common man and bring an end to corruption. But, much of this has withered into dust. As a response, we have chosen to elect into government not only Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party, but also Narendra Modi the man and the principles he upholds! And so, all eyes are now upon him.
Needless to say, Prime Minister Modi is in ‘the hot seat’. A lot is at stake here, starting with expectations of over 1.2 billion people and the pride of the Indian nation. Narendra Modi’s leadership strategies, skills and qualities will also determine the merit of the Bharatiya Janata Party in India and the fate of the Indian nation as an emerging global economy and a global leader. In other words, the world too is watching! Can Narendra Modi and his government reverse India’s current economic downslide, save it from corruption and push ahead with bold reforms to bootstrap the country into economic prosperity?
Although not yet two months in administration, Prime Minister Modi’s government has already made its first major policy announcement for the country in the form of the Union Budget 2014, presented by the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. To many people, including business leaders and the common man, the 2014 Budget lacks the high energy that they had expected from the Modi government. Narendra Modi’s government has not come out with all guns blazing, ready to conquer the world of deficits, inflation, corruption and unemployment to begin a new era of economic policy which will lead India to prosperity. So, what gives?
Interestingly, this is the kind of situation many newly-appointed CEOs struggle with too. Should they simply barge in and start making changes as time is of essence? Or, should they walk in, assess the situation, and introduce changes – small at first and then major ones over a longer period of time? Management styles, temperaments and personalities differ of course – leading to different policies, strategies, implementation plans and outcomes. So does the need of the hour; not to mention expectations of company board members and employees. At such decisive moments, a CEO’s approach to management, similar to a prime minister’s approach to governance, can and does alter the future of a company or a country.
It seems Narendra Modi’s government is in no rush to bring in reforms to turn the Indian economy around in one clean sweep. Reforms will be slow, suggested Finance Minister Arun Jaitley while presenting the Union Budget on 10th July 2014. As quoted by ibnlive.in, in his speech, Mr Jaitley said the 2014-15 Budget was “only the beginning of a journey” to take India’s economic growth to its earlier levels of 7-8% over the next three to four years. “It would not be wise to expect everything that can be done or must be done to be in the first Budget presented within forty five days of the formation of this Government.”
Explaining the 2014 Budget further, in an article titled India’s Modi (Barely) Passes His First Big Test on Economic Reform, Michael Schuman of Time magazine writes,
“Investors got some items on their wish list. The government pledged to open the defense and insurance industries wider to foreign investors, bring down the budget deficit more rapidly, press ahead with much needed tax reform, improve the country’s inadequate infrastructure and support manufacturing to create more jobs. Jaitley also promised an overhaul of costly food and fuel subsidies, which are a huge burden on the strained budget, to make them “more targeted” on the most needy.
Yet for a government that has pledged to control spending and unleash the country’s growth potential, the budget was still puffed up with plenty of populist pork. The budget reiterated Modi’s campaign pledge to provide toilets for all. Jaitley also decided to maintain the previous administration’s expensive and controversial program to guarantee jobs for rural workers, though he suggested its oversight would be strengthened to ensure funds got utilized more wisely. On other issues, Jaitley seemed to fudge a bit. Widely criticized efforts by the previous government to impose retrospective taxes scared foreign investors, and though Jaitley said the Modi administration would limit any such taxes and “provide a stable and predictable taxation regime that would be investor-friendly,” he didn’t emphatically close the door on them, either.”
To revive the economy, Prime Minister Modi’s 2014 Budget seems to be depending on foreign investment as well as private investment within the country. Keeping in mind the deficit targets that need to be managed, it’s difficult to tell at the moment if this strategy will guarantee the expected revival of the economy. This doubt carries the added burden of a late monsoon which will certainly adversely affect the agriculture sector in India. Understandably, which such uncertainty, Narendra Modi’s government has suggested incremental growth in the economy as opposed to an all-out drive towards a quick turnaround.
Of course, the 2014 Budget has come under criticism. Many people believe that the Budget isn’t significantly different from what the earlier UPA government had proposed. According to Srinivas Mazumdaru’s article titled India’s budget draws mixed responses in the German website DW,
“While PM Modi called it a budget of hope and trust, the opposition Congress party slammed it, saying it was “high on rhetoric and short on delivery.”
“We saw none of the big, bold ideas or a roadmap for the future in the budget,” party spokesman Shashi Tharoor told Indian broadcaster NDTV, adding that “there was nothing concrete… no specific measures on how to improve growth, no decisions on the direct tax code or reducing inflation.”
Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at the research consultancy Capital Economics, said that both in terms of the budget forecasts and policy measures, nothing that was announced today marks this government out as being significantly different from the last one. “If market enthusiasm for Modi’s government is to be sustained, that will have to change,” underlined Williams.”
So far, Indian business leaders have expressed mixed responses to Prime Minister Modi’s 2014-15 Union Budget. Here are a few responses quoted from Budget 2014-15: India Inc reactions in Business Standard:
Sidharth Birla, President, FICCI
“The FM has set the ground for repair of the economy. There has been a mix of both short-term and long-term measures geared towards boosting confidence of all key constituents.”
Vikram Kirloskar, Vice Chairman, Toyota Kirloskar Motor Pvt Ltd
“The key concern for the auto sector is whether the excise duty concessions that were announced in the interim budget will continue after December or not. No comment was made on this matter in the Budget. We hope that the concessions continue.”
Deepak Kapoor, Chairman, PwC India
“Given the tight fiscal situation, the FM had very little elbow room and within this constraint, he has addressed the key issues of providing the tax incentive to individuals, encouraging manufacturing sector and giving a fillip to infrastructure and its financing.”
No matter what our expectations are of him and his government, for the time being, we’ll need to leave Prime Minister Modi to his wisdom. After all, it’s only the beginning of a journey. There’s much more to look forward to.