Modi's big achievement: Government is now more visible than before

Despite many achievements, the overpowering impression is that Modi has delivered less than he promised. However, one thing is certain: the government and leadership is now more visible than in the Manmohan Singh years

Sanjay Singh May 18, 2015 21:47:42 IST
Modi's big achievement: Government is now more visible than before

A year ago, when the people of India voted Narendra Modi to power with the first single-party parliamentary majority in 30 years, it signalled more than just an ordinary change of government. Modi had broken several conventional beliefs and proved a dominant section of political analysts wrong. A big chunk of the electorate voted for him, not for his Hindutva image, but because they saw him as a development messiah. His political rivals’ attempts to paint him as a communally divisive figure only ended up polarising the majority community towards him.

Modis big achievement Government is now more visible than before

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

From Day One it was thus clear that Modi would be judged by a different yardstick compared to normal governments. The burden of expectations was much higher in his case compared to Manmohan Singh or Atal Bihari Vajpayee or any of his other predecessors after Rajiv Gandhi.

One could say that expectations in 2014 were probably as high as from Rajiv Gandhi after the latter’s victory in 1984. Rajiv failed to deliver after the biggest mandate in Indian history. In Modi’s case, delivery is seen to be below expectations, but not indefensible. In year two of his government, therefore, he will have to close the gap between expectations and promise more quickly.

BJP president Amit Shah will have none of this. “The biggest achievement of this regime is that government is visible on the ground. The government has been prompt in responding, and is seen to be acting in any emergency, be it floods in Jammu and Kashmir, earthquakes in Nepal or crisis in Yemen.” Listing out the Modi government’s achievements, he says: “Ek saal me koi itna nahi kar sakta jitna dus saal me bigada ja chuka hai, jitney khadde kode gaye thhe”. (Given the damage done over 10 years, no one could have done better in one year.)

The damage of the last 10 years refer to scams, growth bottlenecks, and other policy paralysis issues left behind by the UPA as compared to the “good, solid foundation” left behind by Vajpayee’s NDA.

Shah also lists the Modi government’s legislative successes as feathers in Modi’s cap. Barring the Land Acquisition Bill and GST, the government has passed 47 bills in one year. The GST and Land Bill will, however, be the acid tests for Modi. Both are pending before parliamentary committees and if Modi does not get them passed, the damage will be high.

Modi’s clear successes relate to external diplomacy. He began very well on a high diplomatic note, taking everyone by surprise by inviting the heads of governments of all neighbouring countries to his swearing in. He subsequently made his mark as a world leader to reckon with. Domestically, he made his big pitch from the Red Fort, when he talked of social issues, inclusive banking, cleanliness (Swachh Bharat) and safety of women. Since then he has been portraying himself not just as head of government, but as an inspirational political leader trying to inject self-confidence in the people at large.

More recently, after alienating allies and rattling the opposition by trying to build the BJP in various states (Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand, and J&K), Modi reached out to his opponents not only to get several bills passed, but also to make states partners in development. Recently, Modi shared the dais with one of his most trenchant political critics, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, to launch three social sector schemes in Kolkata. He boasted: “She also knows that it (lack of banking facilities for the poor) is a legacy issue of the past 60 years, and we can deliver (even on this).” The reference was to the Jan Dhan Yojana under which almost all Indian households have reportedly been given bank accounts with insurance cover and overdraft facilities.

However, even as Modi has been seen to work overtime, the general perception is that he has not been able to meet the high expectations of the people in his first year. Achche din seem to be still some distance away. And while there is appreciation that Modi stands tall on the world stage, thanks to his diplomatic efforts, the aam aadmi is yet to see direct gains from his efforts in terms of jobs and growth. Modi’s initiatives like Skill India, Digital India, and Make in India still have the trappings of slogans rather than delivered promises on the ground.

Moreover, despite the bad economic legacy from UPA, not all problems can be laid at the door of the UPA. Some are uniquely of its own creation, including the buildup of a trust deficit with its core constituencies of the middle class and business. The notices sent to foreign investors on minimum alternate tax, and the lengthy and intrusive Income Tax Return (ITR) forms were needless self-goals. An instant outpouring of anger forced the government to clarify and withdraw the new ITR form. But the apprehensions have not died down.

In the coming months, Modi may also have to reckon with some degree of bad economic news. When campaigning for the Delhi elections, Modi had talked about being a lucky PM and pointed to the decrease in petroleum prices. Now, with diesel prices being decontrolled, he may have a tough time explaining why both petrol and diesel prices are rising again. The latest hike became effective on the morning of 16 May – exactly a year after Modi won the Lok Sabha elections.

Modi is also accountable for more than just his government’s performance. The party has let fringe characters within the Sangh and even the BJP hijack the headlines, which derailed some of Modi’s development agenda. Wild statements by Sangh hotheads also put a question-mark on Modi’s `Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’ catchphrase. These elements have since quietened down, but no one can say they have been gagged for good.

Modi’s first year is not without significant achievement, but his second will depend on a single-minded focus on development and legislation related to economic reform.

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