50 days of Narendra Modi govt: Centre makes its holistic intent visible, but challenges remain to be tackled

Mamata Banerjee is claiming that Narendra Modi returned to power for a second consecutive term with an even greater majority because the Election Commission of India and the EVM conspired to hand BJP a victory. She wants a return to the ballot paper voting system. Of course, the West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo forgot to mention that she ended the Left Front’s 34-year rule in the state and rose to power in the 2011 elections conducted through EVMs and she never complained when EVMs, again, showed the results in TMC’s favour when she returned to power five years later.

That’s okay. Mamata needs to rally her demoralised troops and one shouldn’t grudge her or her delusion. Mamata’s signature annual ‘Martyr’s Day’ rally in the heart of the city on Sunday had thinner crowds compared to previous years. Little wonder that a worried TMC chief is hunting for desperate excuses. The larger point, however, should not be missed.

 50 days of Narendra Modi govt: Centre makes its holistic intent visible, but challenges remain to be tackled

File image of Narendra Modi. PTI

Be it Mamata or Mayawati or Rahul Gandhi, the Opposition has been driven to a point of despondency not merely owing to BJP’s victory, but also due to the party's increasing national footprint and lack of a challenger. Mamata’s rant against ECI or EVMs is symptomatic of the cluelessness BJP’s political rivals are suffering from and that cluelessness stems from the Opposition’s complete inability to understand the reasons behind their crushing defeat and Modi-led BJP’s political dominance.

The party's dominance owes for a large part to the prime minister’s mass connect and charisma, but these still fail to adequately account for the trust that the electorate has placed on Modi for a second consecutive term through a pro-incumbency mandate.

The seed of this trust lies in the activism that Modi has brought into politics, administrative structure and the ethos that drives India’s bureaucracy. This activism takes different forms and translates into different modes of action, but at its heart, the activism is driven by a need to restore India to its civilisational glory and wrest its rightful place among the comity of nations which has been lost to centuries of oppressive foreign rule. Hence, Modi’s activism is a combination of rejuvenation and assertiveness, of goal-setting and relentlessness pursuit of that goal.

As the Modi government 2.0 completes 50 days of return to power, it is worth assessing the effect of that activism that drives the prime minister and his approach towards work. The goal-setting framework is clearly visible. The prime minister articulated on that goal — to turn India into a 5$ trillion economy by 2024 — during a recent trip to his constituency, Varanasi, and his government has already taken a raft of measures aimed at achieving that target.

Achievement of that target is incumbent on solving the biggest issue facing India — a sluggish economy where private investment is down, and so is consumption and sentiment across sectors. For instance, passenger vehicle sales have declined for six consecutive months and overall sales have wilted by over 17 percent in April 2019 — which is the steepest fall in a month since October 2011.

The new government had an inauspicious start as growth data fell to a nearly five-year low of 5.8 percent in the quarter ending March and the unemployment rate hit 6.1 percent in 2017-18. The depressive outlook was reinforced by the National Statistical Office (NSO) that also cut its full-year growth estimate for 2018-19 from an estimated 7 percent earlier to 6.8 percent. The downturn, suggests data, is indicative of a structural slowdown gripping the economy across various sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, electricity, transport and communications.

To achieve ‘Mission $5 Trillion’, spur private investment and mitigate the problem of joblessness, Modi has set up two Cabinet committees specific to the issues. According to government sources, both panels — Investment and Growth and Employment and Skill Development — are headed by the prime minister who has also announced the setting up of a high-powered committee on structural reforms in the agriculture sector that includes some chief ministers. The mandate is to explore legislative changes required for reforms.

50 days of Narendra Modi govt

The interesting thing about the government’s approach is that it deviates from a piecemeal effort towards a holistic view of the problem. The foundation for a 5$ trillion economy — which according to Modi is crucial to India’s inclusive prosperity because “size of the cake matters” — has been laid and articulated in a budget that caters to every section of the electorate.

So simultaneously during the 50-day period that has been just completed on 21 July, the government has focused on empowerment for all, boosting business sentiment, doubling farmers’ incomes by 2022, infrastructure and investment, anomalies in banking and financial sectors, youth empowerment, ‘ease of doing business’ and ‘ease of compliance with ESI reforms’, higher minimum support price for Kharif crops, etc, among other steps.

The budget, meanwhile, talked of housing for all, electricity and cooking gas for every household as well as electric vehicles. It promises the withdrawal of much-reviled ‘angel tax’ and also introduces a faceless and seamless tax assessment interface.

From bringing farmers, small traders and unorganised workers into the pension net, removing the cap on PM-KISAN to include all farmers, setting up of a Jal Shakti ministry to mitigate the challenges arising out of crippling water scarcity, making water conservation a mass movement, relieving tainted bureaucrats across departments, enacting strong laws against conmen and financial fraudsters, death penalty for child sexual assault, to initiating key steps on labour reforms such as ‘labour code’ that benefits 40 crore informal sector workers and reforms that may benefit around 50 crore workers by ensuring timely payment of wages irrespective of sector or wage ceiling, the Modi government has worked at a commendable pace. The labour reforms codification, say sources, will ensure ease of doing business by simplifying 32 central labour laws into four codes and doing away with multiple minimum-wage ceilings.

The government has also amended the POCSO Act by introducing a death penalty for sexual offences against children and steps against child pornography, while under the PMGSY-III project, it has proposed to consolidate 1,25,000 kilometres road length and give a major developmental boost to unconnected villages and its habitation routes. It has made several amendments to the landmark Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code to enhance the framework for ensuring speedy resolutions of non-performing assets (NPAs), as well as approved the Banning of Unregulated Deposit Schemes Bill, 2019, that seeks to provide for a comprehensive mechanism to ban the unregulated deposit (Ponzi) schemes to protect the interest of ordinary depositors, according to a release.

Overall, the strive for a balanced and holistic approach to mitigating the issues facing India is evident. On the foreign policy front, Modi has sought to strengthen the “region first” approach by inviting BIMSTEC leaders to the oath-taking ceremony. This highlighted the role India seeks to play in the neighbourhood, while simultaneously sidelining SAARC and sending Pakistan a message that its ability to contain India through using of terror tactics will now diminish.

Modi’s visit to the Maldives and Sri Lanka also came at a crucial time when India needed to reinforce its primacy in the immediate neighbourhood while the prime minister’s “popularity” at G20 summit underscored the rise of India’s global profile.

Here, too, just as on the economic front, challenges remain on multiple fronts. India is on the brink of a mini trade war with the US and has been unable to solve the Donald Trump conundrum. India has been left out of the Afghanistan peace process despite being the biggest stakeholder in Afghanistan’s nation-building while increasing dalliance between the US and Pakistan (Imran Khan is on an official trip to the US along with Rawalpindi generals) poses new challenges for India. Not to speak of the geopolitical minefield in the region bruised by China’s assertive rise.

The 50 days have passed in a flash, and before long five years will too come to an end. If the Modi government succeeds in maintaining the tempo of its work and intent, India will be well poised to reap the demographic dividend.

Updated Date: Jul 22, 2019 16:39:45 IST