Is Sun Setting On Modi’s Popularity?
Trust deficit is growing, so it seems, if one believes the chorus of disparaging criticisms from all corners accusing the Prime Minister of non-performance and of collusion with the lunatic fringes whose leading members come out with statements which alienate both middle class and the youth—the most dependable vote-bank of Modi
The general feeling which somehow media commentators, TV anchors and Congress party spokespersons claim to be privy to is of growing disenchantment with Narendra Modi, for his inability to meet any of the poll promises, at least nothing is perceptible. It is claimed that talking and making claims, through Mann ki Baat is being fed to people who are now sceptic of the claims, say the critics with unabashed pleasure.
What is the reality?
During campaigning, his message of can-do aspiration delivered with sure-footed assurance, came as a beacon of hope to a nation weary of a government with policy paralysis for long. And Narendra Modi certainly worked on his “charm deficit disorder” to project a brand of folksy humour that helped him connect with the very constituencies that a populist UPA had hoped to retain.
And he not only won but with single largest majority, breaking the near tradition of coalition governments. But during the last few months out of almost 11 months in office, Modi has been facing rumbles of discontent, and not just from the usual suspects but some prominent voices that had cheered his ascent and declared him the much-needed antidote for a UPA-plagued nation. It is abundantly clear, however, that PM Modi’s problems of governance have their roots in the very same issues that bedevilled candidate Modi. The euphoria of the sweeping electoral victory eclipsed them for a while, but clearly did not nullify his inherent disadvantages.
Modi as PM has tried to project a more statesmanlike persona than the candidate Modi who egged mammoth crowds on with jabs at shehzada and Madam (deliciously drawn out for effect). Modi wants to put the old vindictive image behind him. L. K Advani did not speak at the BJP National Enclave but he was on stage and— as a BJP official proudly told the media— even spotted clapping during Modi’s speech. But that old pettiness slips out at other moments, and to the detriment of his government.
It is also alleged that policy paralysis has afflicted Modi government as well because the PMO has been vested with too much of power and decision-making. This way Modi, a control freak, controls everything, from governance to policy-making and even postings and transfers. A newsweekly claimed that the number of files pending has gone up from 1500 during Dr Manmohan Singh to 6000 by mid-March this year. A long-list is also prepared of headless organisations and decision awaits transfers and postings at the Director and Joint Secretary levels. It is also alleged that Modi has rendered the Cabinet Appointments Committee redundant. “There is bureaucratic sloth and reluctance to be pro-active.”
The plethora of charges and criticisms indicates that the chances of Modi returning after 2019 General Election is extremely bleak. For his claim of good governance and administration has been belied.
But a recent India Today-Cicero Mood of the Nation Opinion Poll conducted across the country found that 22 per cent of the respondents considered Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s performance as excellent while 38 per cent of them rated his performance as good. Only 11 per cent of the respondents are unhappy with his 10-month tenure and termed it as poor.
On the question of Modi government’s biggest achievement since coming to power, around 34 per cent of the respondents said that country’s international image has been improved considerably. Only 13 per cent of them believe that reducing corruption was Modi government’s biggest achievement. The figures should make the critics jabber less.
In fact, the entire survey except that in the General Election if held today, BJP would get less seats indicates that the honeymoon period might be over but the trust and hope from Modi is still very much there.
The charge of no governance is countered by the opinion poll. Almost 52 per cent of over 12,000 respondents said Modi represents development and good governance. This, despite the charge that 80 posts of Directors and Joint Secretaries remain vacant, which itself is contradictory to the other accusation that all decisions are made by the PMO.
In New Zealand, less bureaucracy is being experimented. Do we need fill up these 80 posts if the work has not been affected? As it is we have been complaining of bureaucratic red-tapism and that they cause long delays and complexities by their own interpretation of rules for implementing policies.
A secretary in the Government of India said ‘we are unnecessarily complaining of too much workload which keeps us for long hours in the office. I don’t complain. I finish my work in time to be home by seven latest.’ He is in charge of one of the most important ministry which is very much in the public eye and various facets have to be taken into account.
The most important finding which should shut up the critics and the Opposition, especially Sonia and her loyal minions, is that an emphatic 69 per cent said that the Modi-led government has either beyond the expectation or met the expectations. These 69 per cent obviously have not looked at his performance through the prism of personal and political hatred of the prime minister per se, or to satisfy their own ego.
But hopefully the intellectuals and the Sonia’s strategists who are very creative would think of some new issues to attack Modi. One neutral analyst said these ‘chaps do not have much time. Once the implementation of various schemes starts showing results not many would give much credence to their criticisms.”
The fact is that over 25 schemes have been floated since Modi became Prime Minister in May. Of these the Jan Dhan Yojana, where accounts of the poor were opened with zero deposit and the depositor in return was given Rs one lakh insurance policy. Despite the Reserve Bank, Finance Minister and his own PMO saying that the scheme would take three, two and one year respectively, he floated the scheme on August 15 and announced closure on January 26. He personally requested bank employees through letters to them to help. The result over 75 million bank accounts have been opened in the villages in India and the money deposited amounts to over Rs.5,000 crore.
He has now nearly a 100 million villagers who swear by Modi. The Swachh Bharat scheme has been made joke of but signs are there that it has had impact. See the Railway platforms, compartments, offices and their toilets.
Then the other schemes announced in the Budget, MUDRA, which Modi explains has been set up to ‘Fund the Unfunded’. He elaborated, “Millions of common men and women of this country, who run small business, have almost remained outside the net of formal institutional finance, in spite of their large contribution to the country.”
These millions will be eligible to funding under MUDRA. This will provide doorstep credit at much lower cost. The hawkers, vendors who sit on pavements but have permanent addresses are eligible under this scheme. Apart from funding, it also includes ‘promoting right technology solutions for financial delivery to the last mile’.
Once the funding starts, millions will be benefited and this help will be perceptible to other millions as well. The critics’ should better wait for sometime before uttering no-good things about Modi and his led government.
However, the cause for worry to Party President Amit Shah is the finding that the BJP is likely to lose 27 seats, if general election was held today, that means it will be down from 282 to 255. The Congress’s tally will be 53 that is a gain of nine seats. Modi remains the best choice for the prime minister. The neutral analysts do not agree that this downslide will continue. Modi has another four years left. These years will give Modi the time to spring back. He is a fighter and is determined to get three terms in total. Once his schemes start showing results—like Jan Dhan and MUDRA—millions will become his steadfast supporters.
When asked if the state of economy improved, around 36 per cent said that it has improved and 29 per cent said it has not. But the projected GDP for this financial year is 7.5 per cent as against 5.6 per cent last year. The inflation is expected to go down under 6 per cent. The well-known economist R. Krishnan said that the FDI being raised to 49.5 per cent in insurance, mining bill and coal bill make the whole process transparent which will eliminate corruption and favouritism.
In its monetary policy statement, the RBI said that it would prefer to stand pat in light of recent signs of pick-up in economic activity and comfortable liquidity conditions, and as it awaits transmission of the recent cuts, further data on inflation, shift in the quality of government spending, and for the Federal Reserve’s moves on interest rate in the US. The RBI did, however, lower its January 2016 inflation forecast to 5.8 percent from 6 percent earlier, expecting prices to reach as low as 4 percent by August this year.
The government and the central bank recently signed an agreement in which the latter would formulate monetary policy with the aim of achieving specific inflation targets. “The Monetary Policy Framework Agreement signed by the Government of India and the Reserve Bank in February 2015 will shape the stance of monetary policy in 2015-16 and succeeding years,” the central bank said in a statement. “The Reserve Bank will stay focussed on ensuring that the economy disinflates gradually and durably, with CPI inflation targeted at 6 percent by January 2016 and at 4 percent by the end of 2017-18,” it added.
Coming back to controversies, Krishnan dismissed Sonia agitation against the Land Acquisition Bill as political chicanery. He said Sonia Gandhi has no issue so she is distorting facts to woo farmers. Under the Bill, no tribal or forest land will be acquired. Under it 30 lakh jobs will be created. The compensation rate is not being touched. The land will be acquired only for Public and Private Enterprises, like for roads, bridges, defence needs and not for giving it to private businesses. Quite a few NGOs are paid by western agencies to stall development programmes. He rapped the media for selective reporting. The news that 57 per cent favour anti-conversion legislation has been virtually blacked out. The state of economy will improve further with the Modi Government raising allocation of resources to states from 32 per cent to 42 per cent.
Despite the Sanghis like Sakshi Mahraj and a huge team of intellectuals—who have lost patronage and VIP treatment – and journalists who have been persona non grata, Modi has everything going for him. The seeds he has sown would bloom. If he can rein in the lunatics who are hurrying up their process of Hindutva imposition, Modi can breathe easy. So far only 16 per cent believed that he was not secular but these near lunatics could destroy Modi. The problem for him is that these people have the backing of RSS top brasses.
The other damaging thing is the uncanny capability of the BJP to trigger controversies for no reason. Take for example of honouring of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It could be done without trying to shoehorn Good Governance Day on top of Christmas. It caused an entirely unnecessary row and forced the government to defend itself against charges of being the Hindutva Grinch who tried to steal Christmas.
The Prime Minister has long proven himself as a swift and canny learner. But that huge electoral victory may have lulled him into viewing his handicaps as his greatest assets. His first year in office has swiftly disabused him of that fanciful notion. After the wake-up call in Delhi polls, a disillusioned Modi could amay well proves to be a better, wiser leader than a deluded one.
A fighter he will not quit easily. In fact as always he would achieve what he sees himself to. And that is at least 10 years at South Block.
By Vijay Dutt