One year of Narendra Modi Sarkar sequel: 10 wins and defeats worth considering
In many ways the Modi Sarkar 2.0 shouldn’t have had the blood, sweat and tears of the most vulnerable people it is meant to serve.
Sachin Tendulkar’s second innings were often disappointing. Men In Black, Grease, Caddyshack, Basic Instinct, Taken, Exorcist, Transformers, Jaws and many blockbusters had forgettably underwhelming sequels.
But none can accuse the 366 days of Modi Sarkar 2.0 of being boring. It crashed into our collective consciousness like a fireball with the scrapping of Article 370 and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir, streaked across the firmament with the banning of instant triple talaq, pirouetted with the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act, and left a trail of ashes with the economy in peril, the Delhi riots, and now COVID-19 pandemic.
There was never a dull moment.
Here is a quick look at the highlights of the Narendra Modi government’s second tenure after it was voted back to power on 23 May, 2019, with an even bigger majority than in 2014. Let us see what worked and what didn’t.
1. Scrapping of Article 370
Not many Indians believed India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s blunder in granting Kashmir special status — a move that strengthened and provided a legal bedrock for separatism and insurgency — would be reversed in their lifetime. This was the BJP government’s finest moment. In one masterstroke, Kashmir was fully legally and administratively integrated with the rest of the country.
It was also the first time India struck back with force in the losing, 1,000-year demographic war which has continually disembodied and shrunk it.
2. Banning instant talaq
This was a much-needed corrective step which freed Muslim women from being thrown out of marriage at just a patriarchal whim. Decades-old perverted secularism stopped governments from banning the practice in the guise of Muslim personal law.
The step also paves the way for a Uniform Civil Code. The case against polygamy and multiple marriages are already in court.
3. Stronger anti-terror law
In August, Rajya Sabha passed amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, making it easier and speedier to act against terror. Most importantly, it now allows India to designate individuals as terrorists, as is the norm in most nations.
4. Economy in a tailspin
Economy remains the one overriding worry for Modi Sarkar 2.0. It started slipping from last year.
The government had two budgets, one interim and one full, to fix things. Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman increased the surcharge on Income Tax for both domestic and foreign portfolio investors that sent the markets tumbling. A month later in August, she hurriedly rolled it back. But the damage to investor sentiment was done.
This year, the government again lost the moment to reset the economy. Instead of easing tax, the government introduced six slabs within an annual income of Rs 15 lakh.
There was little for the middle and the salaried class, who have endured the twin shocks of demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax and whose consumption and spending form the edifice of the India growth story.
Only last month crude prices were negative. But the government, instead of passing on the benefit to consumers, raised duties on diesel by Rs 13 a litre and on petrol by Rs 10 litre.
5. The disinvestment chimera
The government has promised to privatise Air India, which has accumulated losses of more than Rs 60,000 crore. There has also been much talk of disinvestment from the Life Insurance Corporation. But not much has moved.
The finance minister has recently announced a new public sector policy which will list out strategic sectors requiring presence of public sector enterprises (PSE) in public interest. In other sectors, PSEs will be privatized, and the number of enterprises in strategic sectors will ordinarily be only one to four.
Air India falls into the previous category, and being the only one of its kind, it may well mean that the Maharaja’s privatization plan, which has failed to take off last year, may be aborted for the time being.
6. Merger of PSU banks
One bold economic step of this NDA tenure was the merger of 10 public sector banks into four big banks. This facilitates consolidation, makes the banks stronger and more competitive. It also leads to rationalisation of manpower and resources and avoids overlap of branches across India, thus cutting down on running costs.
7. Blood and citizenship
The government took another civilisational step by fast-tracking the citizenship process for six persecuted minorities from Muslim-majority Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan under the Citizenship Amendment Act. Muslims from these countries can still apply for Indian citizenship, but not under this narrow-window legislation.
Nationwide protests and violence erupted from Murshidabad in Bengal to Jamia in Delhi. It ultimately led to the Delhi riots in which more than 50 Hindus and Muslims were killed.
8. At Ram’s doorstep at last
While the Supreme Court finally delivered its judgment which favoured building a temple in Lord Ram’s birth site in Ayodhya where the Babri Masjid once stood before it was demolished, it culminated the ruling BJP’s decades-long activism.
The government has set up an independent trust to build the temple there. A battle fought through a mass movement, won in the court.
9. Containing corona catastrophe
It is now quite clear that purely in terms of containment, India has done a stellar job when dozens of developed nations have got knocked out. In spite of its 130 crore population and rudimentary healthcare, both the government and citizens responded quickly and spiritedly.
In this crisis, India has helped the world with hydroxychloroquine, and built its own medical capacities (created thousands of new beds for patients, and started producing masks, protective equipment and sanitisers at a mass scale).
States like Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Telangana have aggressively started pitching for businesses and manufacturing which are exiting China.
10. Long road to COVID-19 relief
While the government has rolled out a set of worthwhile reform measures like amending the Essential Commodities Act and giving a strong push to Make in India, its relief package for migrant workers seem to be a jugglery of already announced schemes.
The distressed workers need immediate relief. Some of them are walking hundreds of kilometres home with their families. They need cash in hand. The direct benefit transfers done so far are falling short.
Having insufficient data on migrant workers cannot be an excuse. Each day the government is getting data from the Shramik Special trains it is running.
In many ways, the spectacular first year of Modi Sarkar 2.0 shouldn’t have had the blood, sweat and tears of the most vulnerable people it is meant to serve. And if it showed economic imagination to match its clockwork political instincts.
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