Modi’s performance underwhelming

  • Big-ticket reforms need different approach
  • His govt is perceived as clean in the first year

K Kaushik

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Damodar Das Modi’s choice of Mathura as a backdrop to deliver his first anniversary speech on Monday, 25 May 2015, speaks volumes about his strategy and audacity. Whenever a foreign journalist asked Modi about the Hindutva agenda, his refrain has been that his holy book is the Indian Constitution. But his decision to retain the Varanasi seat in Parliament and to submit one year progress report at a meeting in Mathura are intended to send a message to the parivar he belongs to.

Mathura is the birth place of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, an icon of Sangh Parviar. It is also represented in this Lok Sabha by the famous actor Hema Malini. More than that, it has a special place in the Hindu psyche. So does Varanai or kasi. Modi had never forgotten his roots. He appeared keen to retain his base and improve upon that by using his position as Prime Minister of a country as large and as diversified as India. While keeping his constituency intact, he is particularly focused on winning new friends. That is the reason why he was not as harsh as expected by the secularists with persons like Sakshi Maharaj for their Hindutva diatribe.

There was nothing great about Modi’s Mathura oration. Nothing extraordinary about the year he had spent on Delhi throne. He promised ‘achhe din’ (good days). Now he says the ‘bure din beeth gayee’ (the bad days had gone). He told his supporters that good days have not come only for a few people, implying that the opposition is into bad days. By and large, the people of India are happy that the UPA government had gone out giving place to NDA government.

There have been series of articles in print media and scores of analyses in electronic media on Modi’s performance as PM during the first year. No analyst was prepared to give first class marks to Modi. Many of them felt that one year is too short a time to draw conclusions.  Let us see the plus and minus points of one-year Modi rule.

  • Narendra Modi government has been perceived as clean, at least so far. There has been no major scandal of corruption. Experts say that it is not correct to compare NDA-II with the UPA-II since the latter was the weakest government the country ever had. They also remind that skeletons in the government’s cupboard would start falling out only in the third year and the stink would become unbearable in the fifth. So, it is too early to give Modi government a ‘Swatchh certificate’.
  • The Modi government can be compared with the government headed by PV Narasimha Rao in 1991 Rao was leading a minority government. But he showed greater courage and sagacity than Modi in the first year of the tenure by introducing bold economic reforms. Dr Manmohan Singh was more efficient as Finance Minister under PV than as PM at the mercy of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.  PV could not have kept quiet had Rahul Gandhi made light of the decision taken by his cabinet. Manmohan had to grin and bear the tantrum of his party Vice President at Delhi Press Club where he tore the Cabinet decision into pieces.  Nor anyone can dare to question the authority of Narendra Modi. Modi’s mandate was won by himself unlike that of PV and Manmohan. But PV exhibited a better sense of history and timing in dealing with the worst economic situation the country had ever faced. Modi did not have the gumption to bring about big-ticket reforms. The Goods and Services Tax Bill and the Land Acquisition Bill have been stalled in Parliament since the NDA does not have a majority in the Upper House.
  • Modi’s travels abroad have been far too many with limited results. He presented a picture of confidence and conducted himself in a dignified manner during his visits abroad. He may have fortified the relations between India and other countries he visited. It cannot be said that he opened new vistas as Nixon as President of USA did vis-a-vis China.
  • Modi had started a new chapter in public relations by organizing the NRI meeting in New York, Shanghai and some of the other cities he visited.
  • But by making irresponsible statements about the opposition party leaders and the UPA government, he forfeited the option to ask for the cooperation of the Opposition in passing the key Bills. Having painted Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Manmohan Singh in an a poor light, he cannot expect them to cooperate with his government. He should have left the anti-Congress and anti-Nehru rhetoric soon after the results of the elections were declared and adopted a conciliatory tone. Instead, he continued with his jibes until his China visit. In Shanghai NRI meeting, he did indulge in self-praise but desisted from attacking the Opposition back home. Had he behaved in a sobre way, the Congress would have offered less resistance to the Land Bill.
  • The basic mistake committed by Modi seems to be his assumption that a new Prime Minister should first consolidate his political authority before taking unpopular decisions. The fact is the other way round. All unpopular decisions are taken in the first year before the euphoria died and the honeymoon period is over and the rest of the term is used to implement the decisions while trying to mollify the aggrieved sections. Modi has lost one year without contributin any thing tangible. He allowed Rahul Gandhi enough time to makeover and emerge a changed political personality. Rahul may not look strong enough challenge Modi at present, but he was given scope to recover from the mess he was in after the general elections.
  • Though Narendra Modi keeps on repeating that his is a farmer-friendly government and he is pro-poor, there were not many measures taken by his government that helped the farmers and the poor. He should have gone for a special session of Parliament to debate on the agrarian distress. He should have, soon after taking over the reins, appointed a high level committee of experts and farm leaders to come up with suggestions to make cultivation in this country viable in order to prevent the suicides by farmers. It is mindboggling to note that almost 3 lakh farmers had killed themselves in Vidarbha, undivided Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka since 1995 and the Parliaments did not debate the plight of the farmers adequately. What kind of democracy we take pride in when the fate of more than 50 percent of the population that depends on cultivation is left to the dogs? The ‘Jan Dhan Yojana’ is not new. It is a rehash of the UPA scheme.

One can agree with only one statement made by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley applauding the NDA-II performance in the first year.  Modi had re-established the authority of the Prime Minister’s office. As a leader who campaigned single-handedly and most energetically winning a majority for his party, BJP, in Parliament, the first time for any party to do so in the last three decades, Modi is entirely different from Manmohan Singh who could not get himself elected to Lok Sabha and who was anointed Prime Minister by the Congress president who in fact won the elections both in 2004 and 2009; Modi was the leader who won the mantle. The real test for Modi would be in the coming months which are going to determine his future. So far, he has been lucky, if not plucky, since the international crude oil prices plummeted thanks to the US decision to force Saudi Arabia to produce more and more oil. The economy has been performing reasonably well. The inflation is under control. The growth rate is expected to be around 7.5 percent which is more than the present rate of growth in China. India is billed to emerge as a large economy and a powerful country to occupy a prominent position after China and the US in a couple of decades. The only condition for the good tide to continue is that Narendra Modi should cease to behave like Gujarat CM and start acting as a statesman trying to win over the Opposition. It is not enough to get Mamata Bannerjee and Jayalalithaa on his side. Even the Congress party should be made to fall in line when the interests of the nation are sought to be served. Whether Modi would end up just as a BJP leader who came up through the ranks of the Parivar or emerge as a statesman who could lead the entire nation, just as Vajpayee tried to do, remains to be seen. He should be judged only after one more year in office. Till then he will have the benefit of doubt.

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