Despite note ban and GST, Brand Narendra Modi remains intact for now but how long can it hold?

By Sulekha Nair

Notwithstanding the policy decisions such as demonetisation and a hurried rollout of the goods and services tax (GST) that have negatively impacted a large populace in the country, Brand Narendra Modi seems to be largely untouched as of now. However, with the situation on the ground remaining bleak, it remains to be seen how long can he hold on to the image, aver experts.

Perception of Brand Modi, when Narendra Modi was freshly elected as the Prime Minister, was that of a bold and courageous leader who people expected to bring about sweeping changes. Brand experts say that it was an unrealistic expectation but frustrated by the policy paralysis of the UPA government, voters expected Modi to bring about the achhe din that was his poll promise.

But despite the sweeping changes that have put many of the country's poor in deep trouble, the brand Modi remains undented. However, perception of Brand Modi is an individual opinion and may differ in tandem with the ground reality. Experts aver that though there is a bit of ‘apprehension’ on the growth front, the country is on the right track.

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Brand Modi is intact, argues Arvind Singhal, Chairman and Managing Director, Technopak Advisors, a Delhi-based management consultancy firm, as any decision which is seen as negative by certain sections like demonetisation is on par like any decision taken by a Chief Executive Officer or Managing Director of a blue chip firm. “Some decisions may not work out. It is same for the prime minister too. But that does not mean the intentions were not right,” he says.

Steps taken by Modi were to stop leakages and if some of them did not, it is due to high expectations of the public, counter some. “You don’t expect a magic wand to take away all the issues that ails the country and has been not just the making of this government,” they say.

When PM Modi was talking about his government’s policy decisions on Wednesday during the inauguration of the Golden Jubilee Year of the Institute of Company Secretaries in New Delhi, was he a tad too defensive? Harish Bijoor, Chief Executive Officer of brand and business strategy firm Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, is emphatic that Modi was anything but defensive. He points to the PM’s body language which exuded confidence just like his speech where the tone and tenor was like that of a prime minister than a prime ministerial candidate of the past. “There was a great deal of sobriety and realism about the position he handles and the size of the economy,” he said.

People have become realistic over time, feels Santosh Desai, managing director and CEO, Future Brands, and understand that structural reforms take a longer time. The fire and chutzpah of Modi’s speeches do not evoke the same kind of euphoria that it evoked in his listeners as before though, he admits, but says that his charisma is intact. “There is a sense that there is no alternative to Modi as a leader,” he says, cautioning that it is too premature to write off Brand Modi.

GST, demonetisation a dampener

The longevity of Brand Modi will depend on how the government fares in the next few quarters, sector experts say. However, there are grievances on the ground, especially with small and medium businesses (SME) and entrepreneurs who have been impacted by the GST. There are issues with the telecom policy and GST, which an entrepreneur (speaking on conditions of anonymity) felt was skewed in favour of the big industrialists. “We were able to do business for which the big industrialists charged heavy fees. By bringing us into the GST ambit, we have been dealt a heavy blow,” he said.

Small businesses are heavily reliant not only on cash as currency but business for cash flow. On paper, the policy says that anyone who has a business below Rs 20 lakh in revenues does not have to apply for a GST number, but when you do business across state borders you do need to have one. The buyer may pay well after the invoice is raised, which means you would be paying for GST from your pocket. In effect, as a small entrepreneur, you bear the GST cash outflow apart from giving a long credit line to your customer which is usually not financed by banks since they are loathe to give loans to small business. GST is fantastic for transparency and compliance but the cost for the latter is high especially for small businesses, say sector experts.

Media and the stock market cover perhaps only the top five percent which are individually large businesses, says Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of Third Eyesight, a consulting firm. The reality is that 95 percent of businesses are small and are major contributors to the economy, he says.

“Larger businesses can have manpower solely for compliances, but small businesses do not have that luxury. For the entrepreneurial spirit of this community of small businesses to be unleashed, the number of points of government compliance touch-points must be reduced,” he says.

Brand Modi will have to look at the grievances of small and medium businesses and entrepreneurs who form the backbone of the economy, sector experts said.