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BW Businessworld

First 100 Days: Pros & Cons

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Thanks to franklin delano roosevelt (FDR), the 32nd President of the USA, the phrase ‘the first hundred days’ has become popular throughout the world. FDR coined the term on 24 July 1933 in one of his regular radio chats with the nation when the country was in the throes of the worst depression of the century. It soon became the litmus test for prime ministers, presidents and CEOs in the western world.

Faced with an unprecedented depression — negative GDP growth for four successive years and almost 25 per cent unemployment — FDR said in his inaugural speech, “This nation asks for action, and action now.” And action he produced. In the first 100 days of the 73rd Congress, FDR’s administration pushed through more reforms than any other government in modern USA and, in the process, dramatically increased the heft of the federal government.

As a part of what he called a New Deal for America, FDR won rapid congressional approval for a series of social, economic, and job-creating Bills. Some of these were the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the Public Works Administration to create jobs by building water systems, power plants and hospitals, setting up of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to protect small bank accounts, the Emergency Banking Act, the Farm Credit Act, and the National Industrial Recovery Act. In all, FDR got 15 major Bills passed through Congress in his first 100 days.

Compared to this, all others fail to pass the grade. That is not because others did not try enough; but because the circumstances that created the reform milieu for FDR were quite unique; and also because FDR, despite being crippled by polio, had a dynamism and the ability to cut, change and experiment that belied belief.

It would be wrong for anyone to compare Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first 100 days with FDR’s. But how does it stand up by itself?

In truth, it has been a mixed bag. There have been some obvious positives. First, as Prime Minister, Modi has eschewed the vocabulary of sectarianism. Unfortunately, some others in his party have not. But I can’t think of a single instance of Modi’s since assuming office of the Prime Minister on 26 May 2014.

Second, he has focused on nation-building, on highlighting key national issues and in using a vocabulary of development for the poor that cannot be criticised by any. Third, he has done well in foreign relations. If the Nepal trip was a success in terms of openness and genuine friendship not seen for well over a decade, Modi’s visit to Japan and tête-à-têtes with his counterpart Shinzo Abe has taken the Indo-Japan relationship to a different plane. Now, armed with a uranium deal with Australia, the Prime Minister can meet China’s premier Xi Jinping on a more even keel than his predecessors.

Yet, there have been wasted opportunities. One vacuous intervention after another by an HRD minister dying-to-please-the-leader has squandered political energy and capital. The Union Budget has not yet set in motion a systematic reforms agenda, though it is claimed that one should wait and see. Despite the energy of a new young minister, there has been little reform in key infrastructure sectors, namely coal and power.

The Companies Act 2013 continues to wreak havoc across the corporate sector, but we haven’t heard a word about any key amendments in the offing. And, while a positive for the nation, the uptick in GDP growth to 5.7 per cent during April-June 2014 can hardly be claimed as the first sign of Modinomics. Subsequent quarters can — when it happens.

Truthfully, I still don’t see signs of long-term economic policies by this government which can bring back higher growth across all key sectors of the economy and create a stage for more rapid and meaningful reforms. Perhaps I am impatient. But can we now see a more concerted reform regime? For the next 100 days?

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 06-10-2014)