First Year of Modi Government in Office
But fantasy would begin colliding with the reality if inequalities mount and unemployment remains unaddressed.
By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj
The Narendra Modi-led NDA government has entered the second year in office. A cursory look at the balance sheet of performance may reveal more heartening positives on its plus side than damning negatives across the dividing bar. The NDA rode to power at the crest of a ‘Modi leher’. Latter polls show that the leher has abated but the Government still retains the popular goodwill in considerable measure. Achche din may be far from the horizon, the mood to give the Government more time is palpable. Some decline in popularity is quite natural in these times given the fact that India is in the throes of aspiration revolution. But any significant dent in its reputation is conspicuous by its absence. The Government can still afford to bask under the glow of hassle-free run during the last one year although the rhythm of massive success at the hustings has tapered considerably. The political instability that dogged governments during the last quarter century of coalition era is perhaps the most major absentee on the list of worries.
Yet one should not miss the point that the current NDA government is a coalitional one, albeit sans vulnerability to any mercurial partners and potential tantrums. On political front, the NDA can duly take pride in careful management of the affairs. While some may tend to read too much in the crushing defeat of BJP in Delhi, the footprint it has set in governance in Jammu and Kashmir should more than offset this loss. The BJP was least likely to be sharing the power in Srinagar. Moreover, the verdict had all the potential to tear the unity of the beleaguered state both politically and communally. Benefitting from the coalition, the BJP has chosen to utilize the opportunity to forge a consensus away from the left-of-the centre dispensations that ruled the Centre since independence. Whatever it may mean for the people, there is no gainsaying that alternative ideological pole rarely had this opportunity earlier.
Leads from the Front
The most notable feature is that Modi has led the nation from the front in distinct contrast to Dr. Manmohan Singh Government whose decade in the saddle was bedeviled with duality of authority which made the earlier regime a hostage to unauthorized centres of power. Singh remained locked in a prison of silence, leading to communication gap between his Government and the people. Modi had been extremely vocal”perhaps more than necessary”using social media to tweet, being seen snapping selfies with crowds and reaching out to the masses with his Mann ki Baat (Voice of the Heart) over Radio. To begin with, the face of the governance has certainly changed, if not the fate of the people. The Prime Minister has been successful in projecting himself as a New Age Leader. No wonder then that he has come to consolidate his grip over the party in and out of the Parliament. It was manifest in the way he eased out the erstwhile bigwigs”Advani and Joshi”without a murmur of protest.
No Mistaking Adulation
But scope for further mistaking adulation for genuine praise is limited. Any new government is entitled to its period of goodwill, particularly from those who aspired and voted for it. Then there are those who cash in on the change by having wherewithal to tap the benefits. These sections are the last ones to vent their frustrations. The Modi Government has done nothing substantial to either please these sections or ruffle anyone’s feathers on the other side of the political divide. Just as one swallow does not make a summer, dissonance from people like Arun Shourie and Ballia MP Bharat Singh should not be taken as any hint of incipient revolt.
Even on economic front, the Government has not done too badly so far. Price situation has eased with dip in inflation, largely due to plummeting of global oil prices. For this the NDA should only thank its stars. Fortuitous circumstances on the energy scene had had a cascading effect all across the price index. ‘Make in India’ is so far seen as a hot balloon. How far it would materialize in jobs for the unemployed and underemployed millions is to be seen over a long term. Though Modi’s Saville Row suit was a minor embarrassment, the Rafale deal with France sits ill with the Government’s professions. A Government committed to indigesitation should have insisted on at least collaboration or assembling the aircraft within India. Similarly Swachch Bharat Abhiyan is least likely to show immediate results. ‘Smart Cities’ cannot be built instantly and only too credulous would have taken the promise for the real.
The Government can certainly be lauded for certain gains in the field of external relations. President Obama’s participation in the Republic Day celebration has given a big boost to proximity with the United States. Land swap deals with Bangladesh and safe evacuation of Indians from Yemen too add feathers to the cap. But failure to engage with Pakistan on substantive issues is a major roadblock to progress to durable peace in the region.
Dancing to the Corporate Tune
But the government has not able to come clean on its proclaimed pro-poor policies. The attempt to push through the Land Acquisition (Rehabilitation and Relief) Bill has led to suspicion that it is bending to the agenda of the corporates and pressures from the MNCs. The dilution of MGNREGA further serves as an index in this direction. The big landlords have been nursing a grievance against the Scheme that has curtailed their access to cheap labour from rural areas. There is also a hint in the air that rule for hiring employees would be made elastic in order to bring in ‘hire and fire’ policies in keeping with the demand of the employers in SEZ and emerging industrial hubs. The BJP Government in Rajasthan has taken some definitive step in this regard. These cumulatively paint the Government in anti-poor, anti-labour colours. Fantasy built through vibrant speeches will have short life once the people come to realise that the real agenda is to make the businessmen and buccaneers prosperous. Modi Government has also cut down allocation for education, health and social welfare schemes.
Social cohesion has come under immense strain with saffron outfits launching ‘Ghar Wapsi’, ‘Love Jihad’, plea for forcible sterilization of minority communities, vandalisation of churches, saffronisation of textbooks and tarring of road names associated with individuals from minority community (in Delhi). A 3-tiered approach is visible on this count. The fringe elements with saffron agenda raise a lot of ruckus on such issues. At party level, the leaders talk of debate and dub them controversial. The Government maintains silence. The Prime Minister and the Home Minister’s reiteration of commitment to sabka saath, sabka vikaas (support for all, development of all), a slogan that typifies the BJP’s inclusiveness, is comforting but refusal to put a leash on the rambunctious elements robs the assurances off credibility. Mercifully, the nation has been spared of any major and ugly communal conflagration.
On corruption front, one year is too short a period for holes to become noticeable. Major scams take long period to mature into media-worthy sizes. UPA-1 had a successful sail through the public scrutiny even though scams like Adarsh Housing, Coal blocks, 2-G Spectrum, Note for Vote, Commonwealth Games, Hassan Ali Hawala, Satyam, Madhu Koda and Tetra Truck procurement were in making. They could surface and smudge the copybook only during the UPA-II phase thereby sealing its fate at the hustings. But BJP’s U-turn on bringing black money from Swiss banks is galling.
For the NDA Government an onerous ordeal of addressing unemployment and mounting inequalities stretches ahead. Fantasy so far sustained with vibrant speech would soon begin colliding with reality. Lack of talent in the government sticks out like a sore thumb. Lofty promises and ideals would need to take into account ground realities.