Modi After Two Years As PM
The Modi government has completed two years in office. Has the Prime Minister lived up to expectations? If you go through the social media, elite clubs in Delhi and go by the comments of leading intellectuals and commentators, then Modi has been a huge disappointment. But then the fact remains that all these ladies and gentlemen never voted for Modi. They had never imagined that Modi would ever become the Prime Minister of India. Their vociferous disapproval of Modi in office is in fact in tune with their strident campaigns against Modi when he was competing for the office. That is why I will take their disappointment with a pinch of salt.
On the other hand, if one goes by the opinion polls on the subject by some leading media houses, the picture seems to be little mixed. While a Times of India survey gives Modi about 75 per cent popularity after one year in office, the figure declined as , as he was completing his second year as Prime Minister. According to an India Today –poll in February 2016, Modi is still the best prime ministerial candidate. An Economic Times survey in April this (2016) year says that, “the government has an overall approval rating of 86 per cent on economic performance, while 62 per cent say that it has delivered on job creation and 58 per cent expect the future to be better. In other words, they still believe ‘achhe din aaney wala hain’”. Yet another survey, conducted by the Times of India (published on May 26, 2016) said that, “two years into its term, the Narendra Modi government has been rated by 62 per cent of metropolitan Indians as having done a good or very good job”.
Be that as it may, since Modi assumed office on May 26, 2014, 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, paralysed as it was with pulls and pressures, often in conflict, from within the Congress party. Modi has better highlighted to his advantage two important factors that have great significance for India’s foreign policy goals. He has highlighted well how as a committed statusquoist country like India has no territorial ambitions and how India is “transforming” to emerge as one of the world’s leading economies with a vast “young” working force (demographic dividend), a responsible nuclear weapon power with demonstrated scientific and technological competence, and a stable democracy. Secondly, Modi has emerged as the darling of about 25 million-strong dynamic overseas Indians and “People of Indian Origin” who have distinguished themselves abroad, particularly in the leading industrialised and militarily powerful countries, on the wide canvas of human endeavour.
Domestically, Modi and his ministers are right when they say that the most important gift that they have provided to the nation after working for two years is a scam-free administration. This is not a mean achievement, considering the number of scams and corrupt deals that the Manmohan Singh government was allegedly linked with. However, Modi has not lived up to his reputation as a bold reformer. In fact, listening to him these days give a clear impression that he has focused on rural poor and farmers with welfare schemes for them like any Congress Prime Minister. In all his recent speeches, Modi has been only emphasising how his government was committed to the poor of the country and how he has brought out various welfare schemes. 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, instead of sticking to the Nehruvian framework that talks of distributing only freebies to the poor in the form of one subsidy or the other, rather than attacking the very base which makes people poor.
Modi is right whenever he says that genuine reforms will only eradicate poverty in the country. But his two years in office have not seen many such bold reforms. Of course, one of the reasons for this is that he does not command a legislative majority in the Upper House of the Parliament; the opposition parties here have combined well under the leadership of the Congress party, which is hell bent on stalling everything that Modi wants in the field of reforms. However, my problem with Modi is that he has not brought about many 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.
Similarly, I am getting increasingly convinced that Modi’s much talked about “Make in India” programme is going to be confined to seminar-circuits. If Modi really wants that the manufacturing sector should produce about one-third of the country’s GDP (at the moment it is less than 18 per cent) as that will provide our youth employment and the nation wealth, then he should focuss in the beginning more on the country’s research and education than on the foreign investors. Do we have enough employable youth? Do we have adequate manpower to absorb the foreign technology and handle transfer of technology?
Another problem with Modi has been that he is talking or promising too much without any significant follow-ups. So much so that his promises appear highly simplistic without much depth. 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 Lutyen’s Delhi remain as dirty as ever.
Similarly, Modi spares no opportunity to point out the enormous advantages of India’s demographic 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) was a mere 1.35 lakh during 2015, compared to 4.9 lakh the previous year and a much larger 12.5 lakh in 2009. Worse still, employment in these eight sectors actually declined in the last quarter of 2015.
Of course, Labour Bureau statistics do not provide the big picture, particularly when most Indian jobs have always been in the unorganised 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 unorganised 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.
Let it be noted that Modi’s or for that matter BJP’s traditional core support base has been the aspiring middle class. And it is this class which now resents that Modi promised to be a different Prime Minister, but, in reality he has turned out to be a traditional Prime Minister, talking and acting traditionally. It is this middle class which now feels somewhat orphaned because Modi is only talking of the poor, farmers, and backward castes all the time. It is this middle class which is taxed more and more by the Modi government, both directly and indirectly. It is this middle class which has been adversely affected the most, with indirect service-taxes being continuously raised while interest rates in the banks are falling. The Modi government’s decision to tinker with interest rates in the provident funds seems to have done a big damage to its image. And so has been the case with periodic lowering of fixed deposit interests.
I will like to put also in this category of disgruntled middle class people those who lament that that Modi has not implemented any serious item of concern to the Hindus. According to them, “this is becoming another Vajpayee government, with only some pro-Hindu make-believe gestures as difference, but at heart the same.” There are some elements of truth in this type of resentments. All told, under Modi, the stranglehold of the leftist and so-called secularists is as strong as ever in the fields of culture and education. In fact, though two years have passed, there are hundreds of posts under the ministries of culture and human resources development that are either unoccupied or controlled by the Left/Secularists. Everything points to a continuation of the secularist domination, a domination that is going to make the remaining three years of Modi more and more miserable.
In sum, Modi has not done enough to live up to the hopes he had given to the Indians two years ago. He still talks too much. Now is the time for concrete work. In fact, I will go to the extent of suggesting that he should not come out with any new programme at all in the remaining three years of his present term. He should only focus on implementing what he has already promised.
By Prakash Nanda