Critiquing Modi

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Many report cards have been written for the Modi government’s performance, especially this year. But is it fair to judge so early? asks B. Ramesh Babu. He says the government needs to be given more time, while pointing out areas where it needs to tighten its belt.

Calling for a “report card”, looking over it with a microscope and highlighting the “performance failure” of the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has become a national pastime. That he assumed office only 18 months ago, hardly long enough to make a fair assessment of the new leader and the party in power at the Centre, does not seem to deter the detractors.

The unprecedented mandate
Even his spectacular victory in the General Elections of 2014 did not win him the traditional honeymoon period that was allowed to other leaders. The electoral mandate he and the BJP won was unprecedented and overwhelming. Modi and the new BJP naturally expected that the huge popular vote in their favour across the vast land and among all the segments of the population would be respected, and the opposition parties would cooperate in taking forward the “development agenda” of the winning coalition.
On the contrary, trouble started in earnest from day one. The grand old party of Indian politics, which enjoyed power for most of the time since Independence, could not reconcile to its virtual decimation in the election. The dynasty believed that it was “natural” for it to rule the nation. Suddenly, it was unseated from the throne unceremoniously. At the emotional level, the dynasty’s sorry predicament is understandable. The party had lost in the national and state elections before and worked its way back to power sooner or later. But the parliamentary election of 2014 was a watershed and has radically transformed the political landscape of the nation. Modi’s “development agenda” rapidly gained momentum and swept the party into power with a huge mandate. Caste, community, religion, seemed to be secondary, especially for the youth of the nation, who voted in support of their aspirations for employment and better future, in overwhelming numbers. Modi’s promise of “development” caught the imagination of the nation which had become sick and tired of the daily scandals and the non-functioning duopoly of the Sonia-Manmohan Singh leadership. Actually, UPA-I (United Progressive Alliance) was not as bad as UPA-II. But in politics (just as in life) perceptions overwhelm realities! That is exactly what Modi is faced with today.

Stalling the Parliament
Obstructing the functioning of the legislatures by any and all means began after the initial fervour of patriotism cooled down, and the national consensus of the Nehru era yielded to partisanship, regionalism and politics based on caste, language and religion. “Home rule” was inevitably transformed into a serious contest of “who will rule at home”. Without going into the history of the why and how of this inevitable transition (‘degeneration’ if you will), let me abruptly come to the present – an interim assessment of the performance of Modi and the BJP-led NDA government at the centre. This will have to be done at two levels: (a) leadership and (b) performance on the ground.

However, a few really spectacular achievements may be mentioned here: 190 million people have been brought into the nation’s banking system under Jan Dhan Yojana. A sum of Rs.26,000 crores is currently held in these accounts. Under the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana, banks have given loans to the tune of Rs. 38,000 crores to small businesses.

In retrospect, it would be fair to say that Narendra Modi personally and the BJP as the ruling party, proved inadequate to the challenge of leading the country forward on the much promised development agenda. It is the responsibility of the Prime Minister and the majority party (in Lok Sabha) to make the Parliament work and get the necessary laws passed. On this front, a more magnanimous policy of reaching out to the opposition should have been the strategy adopted. At best it was the classic case of “too little, too late”. At worst, it was the case of the failure of the victorious to realise that electoral mandates are to be navigated through the maze of institutional and constitutional dispensation of checks and balances. It was crystal clear from the beginning that the BJP does not have the votes to win the approval of the Rajya Sabha, which is a must to get the necessary laws passed. In this context, Modi has a great deal to learn from the leadership styles of P.V. Narsimha Rao (who ran a minority government for a full five year term) and Atal Behari Vajpayee, his own party’s highly acceptable moderate leader. At the same time, the Congress party and Sonia Gandhi cannot escape blame for the meanest possible obstructionism adopted in the Lok Sabha. She was paying back the BJP in its own coin for stalling the Parliament under UPA-II. Such “tit for tat” tactics are understandable at their narrow and mean partisan level. But she personally, and her party leadership and the leaders of the other opposition parties, failed the people and the country miserably. Valuable time was lost in enacting key laws, including a few that were on the Congress Party’s own agenda prior to the 2014 elections, namely, the land acquisition bill and the GST (Goods and Services Tax) bill. Realising the difficulties in overcoming the impasse on the bills, BJP was willing and ready to accept amendments and go along with agreed compromises. But, Congress and the other parties were determined not to relent.

On the contrary, in a dramatic change of tactics, a concerted campaign was launched depicting Modi as anti-farmer and anti-poor. As always, the reality is not so simple. Land is needed for development. One cannot build roads and infrastructure projects in the public sector in thin air. But popular perception is often more persuasive than the reality itself. Objectionable provisions – where farmers’ rights are curtailed or cultivable land is to be excluded from acquisition etc., could have been worked out in the interests of economic development and social welfare of the nation. Instead, the hitherto entrenched socialist, secular, progressive and left-oriented establishment’s inability and unwillingness to accept unprecedented electoral debacle became the dynamic negative factor. Its seemingly permanent banishment from power was even more unacceptable and humiliating to the dynasty.

Promise and performance
The gap between promise and performance is a universal phenomenon and an existential reality. That this gap is a lot wider and more persistent in our country throughout history needs no reiteration. Failure in implementation and grievous neglect of maintenance are integral to our national character. Quickly getting back to the promise-performance continuum, Modi’s development agenda comprises a whole lot of reforms (economic, administrative, judicial and labour); dozens of new schemes of health and welfare and rural, urban development projects; financial empowerment of citizens; technology and skill enhancement; special programmes for women, girls and children; and identifying and deleting a large number of obsolete, irrelevant and backward looking laws from the statute books. It is not possible in a brief article like this to plumb in depth the gap between promise and performance of the Modi Government. However, a few really spectacular achievements may be mentioned here: 190 million people have been brought into the nation’s banking system under Jan Dhan Yojana. A sum of Rs.26,000 crores is currently held in these accounts. Under the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana, banks have given loans to the tune of Rs. 38,000 crores to small businesses. Even if we calculate that each loan created two jobs at the least, a solid foundation is laid for 12 million new jobs. Even a much larger investment in corporate sector will not create that many new jobs.

According to a survey released by the Ministry of Labour, 2.75 lakh jobs were created in eight key sectors between July and December 2014 – a 118% year-on-year increase from 2013, when just over 1.2 lakh jobs were created. ‘Make in India’ is gathering momentum, but delay and failure on the economic reforms front is the main hurdle against domestic corporate investment, as well as the in-flow of foreign investment. Even the unorganised registered no significant rise in creation of new jobs. Indian manufacturing is yet to rise to the occasion. Curbing inflation is another big plus for the Modi government. Pace of inflation has slowed from 8.3% to 4.9%. However, food inflation has gone up steeply and prices of onions and pulses are the biggest worry at present. Corrective measures like vigilance raids on hoarders, substantial increase in imports and public distribution at reduced prices have moderated their prices. The full impact of these measures on the market is yet to be felt. Minimum pension has been increased to ` 1,000 per month. However, to be fair to the opponents and independent critics, it must be admitted that the gap between promise and performance is wide. If Modi and the top leadership fail to get their legislative agenda through the next session of Parliament and the urgently needed economic reforms are not put in place quickly, “performance-failure” will grow into a serious challenge for this government.

Personally, I am optimistic that the Modi government and the BJP will make substantial progress on this front. While 16 months are gone, he has 44 months more. Modi should come down from his high horse and build a consensus on the needed legislations. If he is wise enough to muster a breakthrough in the Parliament, likely, the BJP-led NDA can look forward to be in power for a long time to come. The humiliating defeat in the Bihar elections could prove to be a silver lining in the dark clouds ahead. He and the party have to also win in the “climate of intolerance” war being cleverly foisted on the Centre by Congress and other interested segments. This is not as difficult as it seems. But, that calls for another article!

Ramesh-babu

B. Ramesh Babu

The writer is President of the Hyderabad Chapter of the Indian Liberal Group.

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