After 10 years of UPA government, there was a growing disenchantment across all sections of society regarding extreme corruption and lethargy of governance. Even though Manmohan Singh was respected for his past credentials as an Economist and Bureaucrat, it was soon realized that he was not the one who was calling the shots. The real power lied in the hands of the Congress President who had usurped the role of framing the policy as well as decision making. Ministers and bureaucrats very well understood that their promotion did not depend on performance but on proximity to the shadow government led by Sonia Gandhi. Unfortunately, this arrangement did not work too well as it led to a complete breakdown of transparency and accountability. Scams and corrupt practices became the norm. The country was rocked by one scam after another like Commonwealth Games scam, 2G scam and Coalgate scam. Irregular and shady land dealings of Robert Vadra were also an indication of the rot and malaise that had plagued the system.
In this context, the restoration of power to the Prime Minister’s Office comes as a huge relief. Hopefully, ministers and bureaucrats will now be assessed in terms of merit and performance rather than on frivolous metrics like sycophancy. Speaking of merit and performance, there is a clear pattern emerging regarding the top performers in the Ministry. The two most significant reforms announced by the Modi Government have been the Banking reforms and Power reforms. The architects of the reforms are Jayant Sinha and Piyush Goyal respectively. Interestingly, these ministers have a lot in common between them. Both are highly educated and have a distinguished background. Jayant Sinha is an IIT graduate who later completed his Post-Graduation from Wharton and Harvard. He went on to become a Partner at McKinsey and Omidyar Network, a Private Equity firm. Piyush Goyal is an all-India second rank holder Chartered Accountant and second rank holder in Law in his University. He has served in the boards of SBI and Bank of Baroda and has been a well-known investment banker as well.
Normally, there is a paucity of such highly accomplished professionals joining political ranks. The political corridors are a highly closed door society and are not welcoming to smart professionals who would like to make a difference to their country. Here too, Jayant Sinha and Piyush Goyal share a commonality which provided them an access to political circles. Both had fathers who were ministers in the previous NDA regime headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Yashwant Sinha was the Finance Minister and Vedprakash Goyal was the Shipping minister.
If we need to have a better performing ministry in our Government we need more such new-age professionals who are tech-savvy, intelligent and have the abilities to drive the reforms agenda. Narendra Modi tapped the aspirations of a modern India while canvassing for votes during the general elections. These aspirations will be shortchanged if smart professionals need to have a political vintage to enter the arena. Many career politicians may have the drive to perform in their ministries but they may not have the requisite skill-sets to do so. It is not surprising that a lack of bench strength is cited as one of the biggest pain points of the present Government.
Even during the previous NDA government, one of the best performing ministers was Suresh Prabhu who initiated major reforms in the power sector during his stint as the Power Minister. Suresh Prabhu also has solid technocratic and professional credentials. He was All-India 11th rank holder in Chartered Accountancy exam and is working on his Ph.D in Public Finance. Given his track record, PM Narendra Modi was ready to placate and pacify Shiv Sena leaders who were not keen on seeing Suresh Prabhu as the Railway Minister due to personal differences.
The lessons from these examples are crystal clear. At the end of the day, governance is driven by people. We need to have enough right people in our ministries who have the drive, intelligence and skillsets to carry out the ‘Reform to Transform’ agenda laid out by PM Modi. Thus, it is imperative that our Government cast its net as wide as possible in attracting smart professional talent who can perform in important positions. Post the winter session in Parliament, it is widely expected that a cabinet reshuffle will take place to weed out the under-performing ministers. This presents an opportunity to our Government to bring in meritorious technocrats instead of career politicians who fulfill some political compulsion. This move will go a long way in being in a position to meet the sky-high expectations that the people of India have from Narendra Modi. The bar for governance has been set really high and exceptional people are required to meet such high standards. Nothing else will do.