How has the Modi government fared since its formation three years ago on May 26, 2014? Personally speaking, it has not brought “good days” for me; my income has gone down but expenditure has gone up. Many friends ask me how is it that despite my knowing important members of the Modi-cabinet and despite my “nationalist” writings, my condition has not improved over the last three years. These friends do not believe when I tell them that I have not changed positions in my writings ever since I became a journalist about 30 years ago, that I have never been an “opportunist” and “career-minded” and that I have never begged anybody for a personal favour. And that has been my strength as a professional. I always write without any fear and favour. So, in this column, let me appreciate Modi for his good work and criticise for his failures.
In Narendra Modi India has a Prime Minister who, arguably, has the strongest mandate from the people all over the country. He was expected to accelerate India’s economic growth process that was already benefitting from globalisation and the technology- revolution. And ensuring strong economic growth means that India must have not only a stable polity with safe and secure borders but also the capacity to play major regional and global roles. In other words, the rest of the world must acknowledge that India is one of the defining countries in the 21st century.
Against this background, how has Modi fared? Since Modi assumed office, the global leaders have taken India a little more seriously. Modi’s policies towards Pakistan and China may not have been inspiring, but at the least Modi has been able to create an optimistic atmosphere that the world can do business with India, something that one could not say during last years of a taciturn Manmohan Singh government. Similarly, it is to the credit of Modi that he has provided to the nation a scam-free administration so far. This is not a mean achievement, considering the number scams and corrupt deals that the Manmohan Singh government was linked with.
However, Modi has not lived up to his reputation as a bold reformer. In fact, listening to him these days gives a clear impression that he has focused on rural poor and farmers with welfare schemes for them like any Congress- Prime Minister. Of course, in a country of poor, no Prime Minister can afford to annoy the poor. But then Modi had promised that he would create a situation where people do not remain poor. Modi had talked about empowering the poor, rather than the sticking to the Nehruvian framework that talks of distributing only freebies to the poor in the form of one subsidy or the other, in stead of attacking the very base which makes people poor.
Modi had promised to break India from this Nehruvian mould and present us a different model of governance. The voters responded to his call for trying a Modi-model for five years. And here, people had reposed faith in Modi, not the BJP as such as the party suffers from every ill associated with Nehurvianism. So far one does not know how Modi will be able to overcome resistance form his own party, the BJP, and the larger Sangh Parivar, which deeply resent against globalisation and liberalisation. It seems that the RSS is not fully convinced about Modi’s “Make in India” programme.
In fact, two principal challenges confronting Modi have been his own Sangh Parivar and “the Delhi establishment”, which includes Delhi bureaucracy, Delhi intelligentsia and Delhi media. Many BJP or RSS members also belong to the Delhi establishment, which, deeply committed to Nehruvianism, is yet to reconcile with what it virtually thinks to be a hostile takeover by Modi, a rank outsider. As a result, Modi has not been able to bring about as many reforms as he would have liked. Of course, it is matter of huge achievement that his government succeeded at long last in passing the legislation on GST, which, is likely to make a unified market in the country from July onwards. But then he has singularly failed in passing the Land-Acquisition Bill, so vital for the success of his “Make in India” programme. Let us remember the simple fact that there cannot be any industry without suitable land.
Likewise, Modi has had a poor pace in bringing about some vital administrative reforms that do not require immediate legislative support or approval. There have been no major administrative reforms such as Police reforms and out of the box measures in the education and health sectors. As a result, we do not have enough employable youth. We do not have adequate manpower to absorb the foreign technology and handle transfer of technology. We continue to produce useless college or university degrees. The Modi government has not given the vocational education its due, the education that will lead to employable skilled personnel who may choose to be small-scale entrepreneurs themselves or join the small and medium scale industries, the real source of a nation’s wealth in the ultimate analysis.
Another major problem with Modi has been that he talks or promises too much without any significant follow-ups. For instance, with much fanfare he initiated the “Swachh Bharat” programme. But has he created any system to oversee how the programme is implemented? He just does not need to go outside Delhi to realise how his cleanliness drive is mostly on paper. Areas beyond Leyton’s Delhi remain as dirty as ever. In my own locality, there are huge pile ups of garbage, surrounded by unruly cows. One can give another example in this regard. Modi has said that his government will make more toilets than temples. But, what will the simple structures of the toilets do in the absence of guaranteed water supplies and proper sewerage lines? Cleanliness in the toilets is as important as toilets themselves. It is much healthier to attend to the call of nature in an open place than going to a stinking toilet that one sees in our public places. Same is the case with the cleaning of important rivers like Ganga and Yamuna. The cleaning –mission has mostly remained on paper.
Similarly, Modi spares no opportunity to point out the enormous advantages of India’s democratic dividends, particularly the feature of the youth comprising more than half of the total population. But these potentials will be realised when the youth is gainfully employed, failing which the advantages will turn out to be disasters. In that context, the latest officially released figures from the Labour Bureau are alarming, indeed. Employment generation in eight labour intensive sectors (textiles, garments, leather, jewellery, BPOs, handlooms, metals and automobiles) has been abysmal. In the last two years, the average employment generation has plummeted to less than 2 lakh jobs a year, which is less than 25 percent of the annual employment generated before 2011.
Of course, Labour Bureau statistics do not provide the big picture, particularly when most Indian jobs have always been in the unorganized sector. In fact, there is a theory that if poverty has come down in India despite its acute unemployment problem in recent years, it has been mainly due to the rise of wages in the unorganized labour markets. But the labour Bureau statistics have two ominous signs. One is that the government jobs, including the ones in the public sectors, in the country is shrinking. Government jobs, which were 19.5 million in 1996-97, are about 17 million today, it is said. One of the reasons for this is the increasingly unemployability of the youth, a point we have already discussed. The problem is more acute since those who are good and employable join mostly the service sector (white collar jobs), whereas the country needs more jobs in the manufacturing sector to tackle the problem of unemployment.
This jobless growth, which has been more dramatic in the last two years, is probably the main issue of the Indian economy today. It is largely responsible for demonstrations by young Patels of Gujarat, Jats of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, and the Kapus in Andhra Pradesh in the name of reservations. Since they can’t get jobs in the private sector, they fall back on government jobs, which, otherwise, are shrinking.
With the idea of furthering reservations becoming a “holy cow” for Indian politicians, it is no wonder that many communities want to be “desanskritised”. “Sanskritisation”, a term espoused by the great Indian sociologist M N Srinivas, denoted the process by which castes considered lower in the hierarchy seek upward mobility by emulating the rituals and practices of the upper or dominant castes. But now ‘upper’ castes want to come ‘lower’ to become SCs, STs and OBCs. Gurjars in Rajasthan demand reservations as part of the ST quota, and Jats in Haryana, Rajputs in Uttar Pradesh, Patels in Gujarat and Kapus in Andhra Pradesh want OBC privileges.
Where has this quota politics taken us? Quality and efficiency have become big casualties. So much so that I came across this story recently—a leading champion of quota politics, who is a Member of Parliament, went to a hospital for a checkup, but insisted that he should not be checked up by a doctor who has got a job through quotas! In fact, the day is not far off when people will avoid doctors and engineers and students will not opt for courses taught by professors if they have come through quotas.
But then, the demands for reservations are assuming perverse proportions, with Modi’s social justice minister Thawar Chand Gehlot openly supporting the thesis that every community must have reservations in proportion to its actual number. What it implies is that those who opt for smaller families are punished, not rewarded. It will also mean that talent and hard work are useless and those who have it need to be taken to task. It also means that people should produce as many children as they can, not educate them properly, and demand that the State gives them jobs even if they are not competent enough. If this thesis is taken to its logical conclusion, it will be the beginning of the end of modern India.
How does then one explain Modi’s rising popularity and the continuing electoral success of the BJP? I think the simple answer lies in the fact that we Indians are not only patient but also hopeful. People, me included, do realise that Modi cannot set the mess of non-governance of 70 years right in just three years. In fact, given the alternatives we have in the country’s polity today, Modi does provide the “Hope” that he is the only Indian politician today who can deliver. He is not corrupt. He is hard working. He has got the right ideas for the country. If he cannot deliver, no- one else. In fact, he is the Hope.
By Prakash Nanda