The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government under the Prime Ministership of Narendra Modi assumed office at the centre on May 26, 2014. While the BJP on its own had a simple majority in the Lower House by winning as many as 282 seats, its tally along with its alliance partners stood at 336. The Indian National Congress which had ruled the country as a constituent of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) for ten years with Dr. Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister (PM), suffered one of its worst electoral reverses and ended up with a measly 44 seats.
For PM Modi, it was baptism by fire, as his political career until then had been confined to his home state Gujarat, where he had risen to occupy the office of Chief Minister. His national ambitions had not been manifest as he had not even had a stint in either houses of Parliament. However, it was his speeches and rallies that turned the tide in the BJP, and in turn the NDA’s favour. The multiple scams that the UPA 2 government found itself enmeshed in, and the anti-incumbency factor too were factors that paved the way for the NDA’s emphatic victory.
The highs and the lows
Much water has flown under the bridge since then, and the Modi government is now seeking a fresh mandate as the nation goes to the polls in April and May to elect a new government. The time therefore is opportune to debate the highs and the lows of the government, the plethora of poll promises that were kept, and those where there has been no progress to the desired level. At the outset, however, it has to be stated that this government unlike its predecessors took impactful decisions on various fronts not shying away from biting the bullet when the need arose. The dilly dallying attitude of the previous UPA government was clearly a thing of the past as Prime Minister Modi led from the front in ushering in a series of reforms involving various sectors of the economy, and while some have been outstanding successes, more groundwork should have been done on others to make them more effective.
Demonetisation which with a single stroke of the pen removed as much as 80% of the liquid cash in circulation by withdrawing the legal tender status for the Rs1000 and Rs 500 notes, was a drastic step intended to purge the economy of black money. However, the move caused untold hardship to the citizens who had only limited access to the funds in their own accounts, and the main aim, viz., to cripple the black money economy, was largely unsuccessful. As per an RBI report, as much as 99% of the banned currency made its way to the banks within the specified time limit, clearly indicating that on this score, ‘demonetisation’ tasted only limited success. The opinion of the economists on the efficacy of demonetisation as a tool to revive the economy too has been divided, and while some have appreciated the drastic and daring move, others have been less enthusiastic in their assessment. However, the general refrain is that demonetisation will begin to show results in the future.
Another measure initiated by the Modi government that has considerably raised its stock but has been roundly criticised by the opposition more for its rather shoddy implementation, is the Goods and Services Tax ( GST). For the first time in the country the tax on goods and services has been centralised, and uniform rates have been fixed for all goods and services across the country. The government had taken a considered view while fixing the rates and has also shown a great deal of flexibility in the matter, and the highest tax bracket of 28% today exists only for a handful of items. The cumbersome procedures involved in filing GST returns too have been taken note of by the government and steps have been taken to ease the procedural norms. The opposition have gone hammer and tongs against the government with regard to GST and have alleged that thousands of small businesses have had to down their shutters after its introduction. More streamlining is certainly required, but there is no denying the fact that GST has turned out into a money spinner for the government, and the proceeds will be shared with the states as well. The government has also claimed that around one crore taxpayers have registered under GST. However, one drawback of the scheme is that commodities like petrol, diesel, alcoholic drinks and real estate remain outside the purview of GST.
Something for our soldiers, and end of a Nehruvian policy
The government also addressed a forty year old demand of war veterans with the introduction of the One Rank One Pension ( OROP) scheme which was welcomed all around, though here again a few anomalies are yet to be set right. Another gesture that warmed the hearts of the forces was the inauguration of a War Memorial in Delhi, a fitting tribute to the memory of all our brave ‘jawans’ who laid down their lives for the nation.
A government decision that raised several eyebrows was the dismantling of the Planning Commission that had been in existence since the Nehruvian period. The Modi government instead set up the Niti Aayog with a mandate to function as a policy think tank that would enable the achievement of sustainable development goals and enhance cooperative federalism by fostering the involvement of state governments. By choosing the right men for the job, the government has ensured that the Niti Aayog has been functioning like a well-oiled machine.
Another feather in the government’s cap was the success of the Jan Dhan scheme which was introduced to bring every family into the ambit of the banking sector. Often dubbed as ‘Modi’ accounts, these accounts could be opened in all state owned banks with nil balance and beneficiaries of governments schemes including MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) would have the sums due to them deposited in the account. However, the government’s assurance of depositing a specified sum into these accounts is yet to be implemented. Among other achievements the comparative growth in GDP over the years, success in keeping inflation in check, rise in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), rank among the positives as far as the government’s progress is concerned.
Rural electrification, construction of roads etc., have ranked among the priorities of the Modi government. When the NDA took over in 2014, around 18000 villages remained to be electrified, and the target has been achieved. The construction of roads have also been intensified and around 27 kms of new roads are being laid every single day. The ‘Ayushman Bharat’ insurance scheme which seeks to bring medicare within the reach of the poor is slated to benefit as many as 50 crore Indians who qualify for the scheme by satisfying the stipulated criteria.
Another novel experiment the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has been implemented throughout the country and more than 7.25 lakh toilets have been constructed, and as many as 17 states and all the Union Territories have been declared as open defecation free. Several awareness campaigns stressing on cleanliness have also been launched.
The concern of the incumbent government towards women has been pronounced with schemes like Ujjwala Yojana wherein LPG connections are being made available to women in villages and other centres, and as against a set target of 8.0 crores, the achievement has been to the tune of 3.8 crores. The ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ initiative that provides security and caters to the welfare of the girl child is also a major intervention and the existing laws have been tweaked to provide for the death penalty for rapists of girls under 12 years of age, and the punishment for rape of girls under 16 has been increased from 10 to 20 years.
The government’s promise of providing two crore jobs a year has not materialised in a big way, and unemployment data has revealed a rise in the number of unemployed and the growth has at best been sluggish. Statistics available in the public domain have revealed that as many as 10 million jobs have been lost between December 2017 and 2018.
On the international front the Prime Minister has persevered to turn India into a fast growing and developing superpower, and his frequent foreign visits have earned the country considerable goodwill, and have also brought in a wealth of investment. India’s battle against terrorism from across the border resulting in the Uri air strike, and the more recent air strike in Balakot undertaken to avenge the deaths of 40 jawans in Pulwama in Jammu & Kashmir, have drawn no adverse reaction from any country in the world including Pakistan’s strongest ally China, and this is ample testimony to the fact that the world stands as one in supporting India’s moves to crush terrorist forces.
The failure to rein in fanatics who belong to the violent fringe and have been indulging in lynching of innocent men under the garb of ‘gau rakshaks’ has been a sore point though the Prime Minister has in his speeches come down heavily on these miscreants. Targeting beef eaters too has hardly brought any credit to the country which is the world’s largest exporter of beef. The government should ensure that the long arm of the law reaches these anti-social elements who not only disturb the peace but also the communal harmony prevailing in the country.
The rising popularity ratings of PM Modi after nearly five years at the helm are an indication that he has been able to touch a chord in the hearts of millions. The ‘Mann Ki Baat’’ discourses over the radio and TV have always been a great success, and their reach has been phenomenal. Many of the government’s priorities have been aired in these speeches including inter alia the war on corruption, the elimination of middlemen in defence and other deals and the steps taken against tax evaders. Although the PM has often come under fire from the opposition with the accusation being that his government caters largely to the upper crust and the crony capitalists, the grassroots man has never failed to impress on the fact that he and his government have the interests of 134 crore Indians at heart.
The progress achieved on multifarious fronts vouchsafes the fact that the NDA government has largely delivered on its promises, and though a lot more needs to be done, ‘acche din’ might not be really far off. As PM Modi has observed the years from 2014 to 2019 constituted a period of providing basic needs, and the next five years would concentrate on realising the ambitions of every Indian. This of course will hinge on the outcome of the elections, but it is certain that the NDA will seek a fresh mandate with a great deal of confidence, and with the PM himself slated to address as many as 150 rallies in the run-up to the elections, the stakes will certainly be high, and the battle hard, with no quarters taken or given.