What should Narendra Modi do over the next three years? The answer to that question depends on what he has done so far, or is thought to have done. Polls tracking him since 2014 show that he remains immensely popular.
His approval ratings on the day he took office (according to a poll by InstaVaani) were at 84 percent. This has remained more or less consistent – currently around 74 percent – and is the sort of number US presidents crave for (Obama has struggled at times to hit 50 percent).
So, to return to the original question, what must Modi do now? Let's break it up.
What Modi must do in order to secure another term:
Continue with whatever he has been doing so far. The BJP's political strategy has been to keep attacking the Gandhis, even though the Congress has only 45 MPs and is showing no signs of revival.
This constant barrage of attacks has one clear disadvantage – disruption in parliament and the blocking of bills that the BJP say are essential, such as the GST. Modi seems to be comfortable with this strategy which presumes that the Congress will in time wilt to pressure from the media, that it is selfishly holding up India's progress.
And it is clear that he thinks that it is more advantageous to battle the Gandhis, rather than to negotiate with them. The electoral results of the last two years validate this, and in continuing down this path, Modi will almost be assured of a second term. The Congress is willing to let him dictate the terms of the political debate, and he is a master when playing the game on his turf.
What Modi must do to make India's GDP grow at 10 percent:
Nothing. It is not possible to have double digit growth in India in the medium term. All of our weaknesses have been exposed – the lack of human capital, the absence of governance, the deep social problems. These are for the most part not the government's doing. The Union government with a few hundred IAS officers cannot ensure quality education and good health in a system where the teachers and nurses don't show up for work.
We must reconcile to growth in the seven percent region, and even that will be difficult as per capita GDP becomes significant (at the moment we are a third the size of Brazil and about a fifth the size of China). Modi must forget about double digit growth and focus on managing expectations.
What Modi must do to revive foreign policy:
He must surrender control over it. Foreign policy is technical, complex, and operates in a system without many rules and very few laws. It should not be in the domain of popular opinion, as it is today in India. Most of us believe that Modi has done a great job here. This is untrue.
His large and energetic gatherings of Indians abroad serve no purpose. His personal intrusion into India's Pakistan and China policy is well meaning but damaging. This is not the space to go over the damage, but it is suffice to say that the world has no idea what our policy towards Pakistan is or if indeed we have any policy. There is no consistency and no thinking.
Modi should stop inserting himself into foreign policy and leave it to the competent Sushma Swaraj and her team of professionals. He can do this without any harm to his personal standing because foreign policy is in reality boring, and few will remark on this change.
What Modi must do to remain popular:
It may seem strange, but his best moves have been the least effective ones. What is the 'Swachh Bharat Abhiyan'? It is a movement – going by his tweets, photographs and the advertising – about littering. But the focus is rather on toilets, which is where the focus of the previous governments had been.
Modi's personal message on littering is what makes the programme popular. Is it the government's job to shame its citizens into better civic behaviour? Perhaps, but where is littering on our list of national priorities? One would conclude that it is very low. So it is a waste of time, but one that is popular as a 'change policy'.
Similarly, 'Make in India' is a dud. It is a dud for reasons beyond Modi's control (India is not competitive in manufacturing and will never be), but it is a hit so far as the optics are concerned. Many think that the lion represents some revolution in industry. The happy thing is, whether the media or the RBI governor point out the programme's lack of efficacy, the public seems to have bought into it.
Ultimately, in democracies, policy success or failure is notional and only as successful or as failed as the voter perceives it.
Modi's great advantage is that he remains the one individual who understands us best. He is on top of his game and we should expect him to be with us for a long time.
Updated Date: May 26, 2016 16:33 PM