The media has been abuzz about the completion of 100 days of the Modi government. Why this topic has been trending and raising a few eyebrows is beyond me. The work of no government can be effectively judged in a span so short. For 100 days is barely enough time for the ministers to get in their groove and absorb their responsibilities. However, that said, this phase does give us a slight peek into what the next years of this government are like. One must understand that the burden of responsibilities on this government as huge, given the massive mandate it received and its accession based on its much-touted development agenda. The reversal of a dismal economy and a pessimistic populace requires much effort, dedication and most importantly time. As it has been generating a lot of buzz, I thought I’d throw in my 2 cents.
As the Modi Sarkaar settles in, it has been credited with raising hopes of a cynical market and urban middle-class. It is credited with reviving the slumping Sensex. Indians believe more in “Sensex ooncha rahe hamara” rather than “Jhanda ooncha rahe hamara”.
The Foreign Policy
By inviting the SAARC heads for his swearing-in, Modi created history and set the ball rolling on India’s engagement with its immediate neighbors. The crucial part was the attendance of the Pakistani PM, Nawaz Sharif. His engagement with Modi was seen by many as a new chapter in Indo-Pak ties. However, this was short-lived as months later; the government cancelled the foreign secretary talks due to be held in Islamabad amid meetings of the Pakistani ambassador with Kashmiri separatists. India took a bold step, the consequences of which may or may not be dire. It showed the government as one that was strong on Pakistan, a much-lacking quality of the previous regime. How would Pakistan have responded if India would have held meeting with Baloch separatists? Just because something had not been reprimanded for more than two decades doesn’t mean it’s justifiable.
Modi then proceeded to visit Nepal, the first Prime Minister in 17 years to do so, signifying the importance he attaches to the mountain nation. The visit was successful too, with the government extending a greater credit line than before. This was followed by a visit to Bhutan, an all-weather ally of India. Both these nations are strategically located and their importance to India cannot be emphasized against a looming Chinese threat. India must show that it is no longer the Big Brother. Lastly, Modi topped off his foreign policy successes with a visit to Japan, meeting Abe, who broke protocol to meet Modi in Kyoto. Modi and Abe share a significant personal relationship, the result of which was the $35 billion that Japan will invest in India over the next 5 years. The external affair minister, Sushma Swaraj has been keeping busy too, visiting the strategically important Vietnam in the South China Sea.
The markets have been shedding their slump ever since January, when Modi featured as the favorite in the opinion polls. Without a doubt, one can say that business confidence is returning and the government has begun working proactively towards promoting and sustaining a 6-7% GDP growth in the coming years. While luck has been on Modi’s side, evident in the declining crude oil prices(which will help in keeping the fiscal deficit down) and a laudable GDP growth (solely due to the re-infused business confidence), the government must realize that it doesn’t take time for luck to run out as Chidambaram learned the hard way. The GDP growth can also be contributed by the rapid rate of clearances of the stalled investments projects by the government. The RBI governor Rajan himself suggested that one must not expect big-bang reforms from the government. Even the budget, termed as boring, was the first budget of the government and we must cut them some slack.
However, the budget was commendable for the FDI in defense and insurance, pegged at 49%. The government has also shown its willingness to curtail the fiscal deficit by promoting austerity and scrapping ministries and the Group of Ministers (GoM) and the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM). It has begun digitizing the application procedures for environmental clearances and has suggested a complete digitization to cut corruption, promote transparency and speed up clearances. Modi has outlined his dream of making India a manufacturing hub by hammering home the message of “Make in India” during his Independence Day speech. The outdated Planning Commission has been scrapped and shall be replaced by a think-tank. This shows that the government is heading towards decentralization, an important aspect of growth for this large country. This decision also promotes competition among states to attain a greater share in Central Funds.
Petrol prices have fallen thrice since the government took over and diesel is heading towards deregulation and scrapping of subsidy, another factor which shall help contain the fiscal deficit. The SIT set up for recovery of black money has been making consistent progress, unlike what happened during the previous government. The Supreme Court has praised the work of this SIT, which suggests complete backing of the government for the SIT. Despite what anyone says, the government’s decision to block a WTO trade deal in favor of its farmers must be hailed as it is important for the government to remember that it is first and foremost a welfare state and in its hurry to appear business-friendly must not compromise on the subsidies which are essential for the farm sector. The Modi government is seen largely as an anti-populist government however one must not forget that India is still home to a large number or poor who require nurture and help from the government.
Congress leaders were quick to criticize the government for the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY), the government’s financial inclusion scheme. Congress suggested that opening bank accounts for the poor was its idea and the BJP has no ideas of its own. The financial inclusion scheme wherein, 75 million unbanked families will be provided with 2 bank accounts each, comprising of overdraft facility (on a conditional basis), debit card facility and free accidental insurance is a highly innovative and beneficial idea, the credit for which must go to the Congress. But Modi has shown in his first 100 days what the Congress government couldn’t in 10 years, intent. In India, everyone has ideas but implementation is the key. Under Modi, the bureaucracy has already left its lackadaisical attitude. Work begins at time in cleaner offices. This shows intent to implement such schemes and work for the development of the poor which the Congress has failed to do ever since Indira Gandhi’s “Garibi Hatao” campaign. However, the Modi government’s successes must be analyzed over time and we must wait to see the impact this has on the ones who actually need it.
Other big-bang schemes include the announcement of a bullet train between Ahmedabad and Mumbai, for which the government shall approach Japan or China. Such vision was lacking under the previous UPA government. Modi also unveiled his Model Village idea during the Independence Day Speech, wherein all parliamentarians will be asked to pick a village and equip it with the most sophisticated infrastructure to set an example for other villages in the vicinity. This is similar to an idea he implemented in Gujarat during his early days as the Chief Minister, wherein he promoted intense competition among villages for greater grants. The governments idea of 100 smart cities is taking shape, as can be seen in my own city with posters highlighting the scheme’s benefits. The government’s pilot project to secure a tie-up between Flipkart and weavers in UP shows its far-sightedness and emphasizes its intent for public welfare. Under this project, weavers will bypass the middlemen and directly sell to Flipkart which shall sell this output throughout the country. His “Swach Bharat Yojana” talks about building toilets for girls in schools throughout the country. Such a sensitive issue was raked up by Modi during his Independence Day Speech. He also reprimanded the parents of males who commit serious rape crimes unlike other politicians who blame the victims. Favoritism in government decisions is down as shown in a recent survey, India improving its position from 94 to 49. The government has planned to repeal archaic laws in the country and a committee has already been set up for this purpose.
Modi plans to create a digital highway, thereby promoting internet connectivity even in the remotest villages. This is one of his pet projects, inspired by Vajpayee’s pet project, National Highways.
At the end of the day, the government must be praised for pushing through these reforms, not to forget its amendment of the Juvenile Justice Act to deter crimes among teenagers in the 16-18 year age bracket. The government has gone ahead with a controversial albeit important measure of overhauling the appointment of Judges, a much needed reform as suggested by numerous legal experts. The government has gone ahead with it though serious doubts were raised by certain individuals regarding the process undermining the independence of the Judiciary.
SCOPE FOR IMPROVEMENT
While the government has achieved remarkable progress in multiple fields, it still lags behind on key issues. The most formidable attack of the Narendra Modi government stems from its proximity to the Sangh Parivaar and RSS, its ideological mentors and far-right organizations. Sangh Parivaar and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat alongwith BJP MP Yogi Adityanath have been spewing venom against minorities while subsequently promoting the ideas of a Hindu nation amid no attempt by Modi to counter them. Such incidents confirm the fear of the minorities, secularists and the pseudo-secularists that Moditva runs parallel to Hindutva. While it is praiseworthy that Modi called for a moratorium on riots during his Independence Day Speech, his actions have not suggested this. The government must be more proactive and sensitive towards such issues so as to deter the alienation of a largely moderate Muslim population. Aggravation of Muslims is one mistake India cannot afford at this after calls by Al-Qaeda to open a branch which shall concentrate on the Indian subcontinent. Efforts must be targeted towards inclusive development rather than issues like Love Jihad.
Another urgent issue which must be targeted by this government is that of women safety. A lot of hue and cry followed the 16th December gangrape after which the government woke up from its slumber. This government must make ample efforts as soon as possible to deter crimes against women. The government would have set a right example by not giving Mr. Nihalchand a post in the government as long as a pending case of rape against him is disposed of. Though he is innocent until proven guilty, the government can do without unnecessary controversies.
The pomp with which the government announced the Ganga clean-up project was followed by sharp criticism from the Supreme Court. The government appeared quite weak as it conceded against the demands of UPSC aspirants and scrapped the mandatory English section from the CSAT exams. It has still to reduce the bottlenecks in transport of coal across the country so as to tide over a serious power crisis. It must also avoid any further controversy by stirring up the issue of Article 370 for the time being as the valley is already a sensitive region without such controversies.
On the economic front, though the government has appeared hands-on, there are some areas wherein there is scope for improvement. The decision on implementing Goods and Services Tax (GST) a nationwide tax is languishing. The government also appears to be losing the fight on inflation, mainly due to a haphazard monsoon. It must not forget that onion prices can make or break a government, which the Gandhi parivaar learned the hard way.
One must always remember that only 100 days have passed since the government took over. Retrospectively speaking, it has performed much better in these 100 days than what the UPA could have done. The aim must be to keep the momentum, announce big-bang reforms, reduce red-tape, ease environmental norms for businesses while not compromising on a healthy environment, increase indigenous defense production, restart infrastructure projects, reduce poverty, reduce imports of essential commodities, subjugate corruption, promote secularism and so on and so forth.
While the 100 days provide a good outward showing, implementation will be the key. The government must not lose steam midway and aim for higher growth over the next five years, a pragmatic expectation considering its mandate. It must not be disconcerted by the by-polls results in various states as most of these were for the legislative assembly and Indians have been known to vote differently in state and central elections. It takes away many positives from its time while some lessons have yet to be learned. Let’s hope Modi lives up to his expectations and the ‘Acche Din’ will finally fall upon us!