Mincing the middle layers: PM Narendra Modi’s mechanism for a direct connect

December 30, 2020 4:30 AM

While these are examples of PM Modi’s leadership style, even in policies he has understood the need to reform the middle layer.

PM Modi struck a deal directly with other governments, benefiting two countries instead of middlemen.PM Modi struck a deal directly with other governments, benefiting two countries instead of middlemen.

By Samir Kagalkar

All through his political journey, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cut middle layers out of the equation, disrupting the older ecosystem. Some have quietly accepted that free lunch is over, while others are fighting to preserve their elitist positions in spite of the writing on the wall.

Mainstream media: the middle layer for engagement with voters: Earlier, the media controlled leaders’ access to the common man on how the news was presented, how a particular view was promoted or anchored—making or breaking a person’s profile. PM Modi took to the social media (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube prior to 2014) and later via Mann Ki Baat and NaMo app to connect with the common man, bypassing the middle layer of mainstream media. If that didn’t tell anyone loudly enough that PM Modi would not brook any meddling by the middle layer, there were more to come.

Karyakarta/common citizen connect through middle layer of district/regional leadership: Like in all political parties, gate-keeping by various leadership layers—starting from central, state and district-level leaders—with respect to karyakartas or a common citizen was normal. But PM Modi introduced NaMo app, which let a karyakarta/common citizen “directly engage with the PM and provide feedback on her MPs/MLAs/state leaders.” This resulted in the entire leadership chain becoming more efficient and effective, leading to better engagement of middle-level leaders with the cadre.

While these are examples of PM Modi’s leadership style, even in policies he has understood the need to reform the middle layer. He either cut it out completely or reformed it meaningfully.

Prices of stents for cardiac patients: This is a well-researched strike against the middle layer (overcharging hospitals) that was hurting the interest of the common man. Leveraging of a pass-through cost item like a stent to earn obscene profits was unacceptable to PM Modi, who struck at the middle layer with a strong policy. A stent overpriced at Rs 1.5 lakh was made available at Rs 30,000, even after allowing a decent margin for the intermediaries. Exploitation by the middle layer was called out comprehensively.

JAM-based DBT of social welfare schemes: Social welfare measures are infested with middlemen eating away free money. Then PM Rajiv Gandhi spoke of how out of every rupee sent from Delhi, only 15 paise reached the beneficiaries. PM Modi ruthlessly implemented JAM-based DBT (direct benefits transfer). An estimated Rs 1.9 lakh crore is saved cumulatively, thanks to monetary transfer being digital. Total removal of the middle layer in subsidy processing should count as the biggest success in the fight against corruption.

Defence deals: The omnipresent middleman was the oil that lubricated body politic especially in defence deals for a long time. Many non-acceptable deals made the cut (pun intended), thanks to these middlemen. And middleman had his share even in good deals. AgustaWestland and Bofors are synonymous with corrupt middlemen.

PM Modi struck a deal directly with other governments, benefiting two countries instead of middlemen. The Rafale deal renegotiated at government level hurt vested interests a lot, who, in turn, lead a maligning campaign, accusing the chowkidar of being a thief. Of course, it fell flat, both in the SC and elections.

Historic agricultural Bills and the exploitative middlemen: Till now, APMC-based cabal of merchants controlled foodgrains’ sale. Poor farmers produced while middlemen/commission agents benefited. Farmers remained poor, in spite of hard work, while agents prospered. Removal of this monopsony by allowing non-APMC sale, allowing of a new partnership via contract farming or to traders with no stocking limits offering better price has left vested interested stunned. Not surprisingly, parties that supported the same reforms earlier are supporting those protesting.

In all the above instances, PM Modi ensured the middle layer was either disbanded or tamed. The fattened middle layer in the farm sector will face no different outcome in this regulatory strike by PM Modi, notwithstanding these orchestrated protests.

The author is the state convener of BJP Economic Cell, Karnataka, and holds a PhD from IIM Bangalore

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