Both Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi assumed the prime ministerial offices with a lot of expectations and hope. Sharif took over about eighteen months ago from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which during its 5 year stint made a complete hash of ‘good governance practices and principles.’ Modi on the other side of the border, has recently taken over from the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), which by the end of its tenure became synonymous with India’s mounting economic challenges and a stalled growth rate that has today almost come down to 5% from a once impressive reading of 9-10%. Whereas, Sharif so far has failed to live up to his potential, Modi in contrast not only seems to be hitting the right chords with the Indian public, but also appears in a hurry to deliver. Let’s try and analyze three key areas to determine why one leader is struggling while the other is racing ahead.

First: policy paralysis. As pointed above, both inherited an ideal platform to deliver, since their predecessors had allowed things to drift to such a low ebb. Logically, the only way from there had to be ‘up’. Also, 5 and 10 years respectively, are long enough periods for oppositions to decipher where the mistakes lie and how they need to be corrected. Still, regardless of how simple the solutions may be, implementing them requires doing. The PPP government, especially in its last two years, was distracted to the point of inaction by a raft of scandals associated with its high offices. Though it may cite structural and global economic reasons for a decline in national growth - to nearly as low as 3% - during its tenure, the real reasons for its failure tend to be a general policy-paralysis and a sheer inability to assemble an honest cum competent team. The PML(N)’s leadership hasn’t learnt either. Instead of getting governmental machinery to work and focus on efficiencies, it continues in the ways of its predecessor; a management style marred with personality politics, lack of merit, flawed prioritization in public spending and an over-reliance on policies based on Washington Consensus (meaning fit-for-all recipes of IMF/ World Bank), rather than those that solve the immediate problems facing people. On the other hand, Modi’s strategy has been the opposite. His government was quick to announce that big ticket reforms could wait and at least for the first year, it will be focusing solely on delivering a better level of governance by ensuring that systems already in place work well. A realization that India’s real failure has been in ‘execution’. Among its first measures were things like setting up an independent performance review of key ministries and their respective ministers; guidelines streamlining preparation of cabinet notes – restricting interventions to two officials, instead of going through the entire bureaucracy of a ministry; single-window clearance of urgently required sectoral investments (power, steel, etc); and setting up a private-public oversight body to prudently balance the ever present trade-off between India’s development goals and environment.

Second: A focus on improving national competitiveness. When we look at the world’s top ten competitive economies, we find the names of developed economies like Switzerland, Finland, USA, Singapore and Germany that have been there for an eternity. Upon close inspection, one finds that one of the common features amongst these developed countries is that they all spend heavily on R&D (Research and Development) and in turn, carry large investments in innovations that have either recently happened or are on the verge of breaking through. However, there are new emerging names as well, racing towards the top of the chart: China, Indonesia and to a slightly lesser cum regional extent, India. These new success stories are rising by driving home their advantage in manufacturing. For every innovation, you need a competitive manufacturing backyard. And it is here where Modi clearly seems to be in a hurry. He has time and again, stressed that not only does he have to overcome the misplaced priorities of the UPA – a focus away from industry – but that he is also committed to quickly deliver on this promise since it resonates with the aspirations of the populace by generating jobs. As he did in Gujarat, he intends ensuring priority to industrial infrastructure and supply of power per se to industry all across India. Ignoring ‘competitiveness’ or in other words, ignoring emphasis on a country’s ability to compete in the global arena is the worst mistake any government can make. Unfortunately, PML(N)’s first eighteen months at the Centre just happen to be reflective of its governance style in Punjab since 2008. Growth and employment creation in the Pakistani Punjab over the last six years has stalled. The once thriving industry stands completely ruined owing to foolhardy allocation of energy supplies favoring short-term popularity over endeavours involving long-term employment generation and by making a complete mess of decision making on key industrial competitiveness trade-offs, relating to green house emissions, labor reforms, property rights, and prudence in procedures on state’s oversight.

Finally, third: Regional over global. The other day, I had the opportunity to listen to a lecture by a very senior General during the Musharraf period and his complete disdain for the intellect of the audience aside, the content of his lecture was nothing but excessive name dropping and a display of

‘I said so’ or ‘I know it all.’ The General ironically had the recipes to fix the problems of the entire world: Russia/Ukraine, South China Sea, East China Sea, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, India etc, except those of his country. Regrettably, this illusion of global responsibility has become engrained in our governance culture – worried about the rest of the world but not about our own problems. The present government has not been able to rid itself of this syndrome either. In the recent protests by opposition parties, its rhetoric has primarily revolved around the reaction of the global powers to our internal political chaos with no real effort on an honest introspection on what may have led to this ongoing impasse.

Modi on the other hand, chooses to focus on internal and regional over anything else. In spite of all the talk about his US trip, Obama in fact had to wait for an audience with him as he made Bhutan his first foreign port of call and then traveled east to Japan before returning to India to welcome the leader of neighboring China. Even when in the US, the theme that emerged from the Obama-Modi meeting depicted that the new political dispensation in India is now clearly distinguishing between India’s business and political interests. And this distinction in essence, is about liberating conversation on furthering business and economic cooperation from being hostage to political disagreements.

 The writer is an entrepreneur and economic analyst.

kamal.monnoo@gmail.com