THE BJP-led NDA Government’s completion of its first milestone has been termed ‘Modiversary’ by a leading national daily! Not without reason, perhaps. Maybe it is time we called the Government of India the Modi administration, like in the US where a government is referred to by the name of the directly elected President, like Obama administration, Bush administration, Clinton administration. Such is the awesome centralisation of power and visibility of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the national and international arenas; as if a parliamentary system of government has transitioned into a presidential form, and within a year!
On such occasions, bouquets and brickbats are the normal offerings. In the Modi administration, apart from the Prime Minister only two people are of consequence-BJP President Amit Shah and the omnipresent Union Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, who also holds the additional portfolios of Corporate Affairs and Information & Broadcasting. Let us start with their bouquets to the Modi administration.
Shah’s list runs thus: High visibility of the government; no charge of corruption, not a single scam or scandal; crashing of retail inflation from 8.25 per cent to 4.87 per cent; turning around the economy which was in tatters; bringing fiscal deficit under control; increase of 40 per cent in FDI; forex reserves rising by 14 per cent; reducing stalled projects from 14 per cent to 6 per cent; launching the Make in India programme to create jobs; the Skilled India programme to drive out unemployment; setting up of SIT to unearth black money; bringing in a tough black money law; huge income from auctioning spectrum and coal mines; and the restoration of PMO’s primacy and stature.
Jaitley adds: No parade of industrialists lining up outside South Block and North Block; FDI increase from $20.8 billion to $28.8 billion; environment clearances given on objective criteria; no role for ministers except in laying down policy; prices determined by market mechanism; successful bidder determined by auction; atmosphere of ‘prosecute-the-investors’ reversed; thrust towards reforms and liberalisation; emphasis on strengthening social security and social sector schemes; over 15 crore Jan Dhan accounts opened; LPG subsidy transferred directly to over 12.6 crore beneficiary households; insurance scheme for accidental death launched; and Mudra Bank to assist 5.77 crore small entrepreneurs in raising funds.
Jaitley goes on: “Herein lies the difference between the UPA’s crony capitalism and institutional destruction and the NDA’s liberalisation and anti-corruption, combined with an emphasis on both strengthening institution building and social security for the poor and vulnerable. The ‘scam and scandal, corruption and retribution’ Raj is behind us.”
And then he makes the most outlandish claim: “The word ‘corruption’ is being removed from India’s political dictionary!” God alone knows what it means. Wonder whether they are rewriting the dictionary, legislating away corruption or rationalising the rates!
MJ Akbar, the BJP’s national spokesman, proclaims that the foundation, which was the difficult part of construction, has been laid and much more remains to be done. As proof thereof he mentions soaring of power output from the targetted 17,830 MW to 22,566 MW; enhancing the Congress crawl of 2 km of road a day to 10 km; and the 100 smart cities that could transform India’s face. Defence has been forklifted from the AK Antony swamp. A new railway vision is on the anvil and the nationwide Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has turned cleanliness into a mass effort.
The foreign policy expert narrates 18 achievements to match the number of countries Modi has visited in 12 months. These include lower crude oil price from Saudi Arabia; four hydroelectric power stations plus dams in Bhutan; $30 billion investment from Japan; Vietnam oil exploration contract to ONGC-Videsh; increased oil imports from Iran despite the ban by the US; removing the China-leaning Rajapakse as President of Sri Lanka; $20 billion investment from China; stopping the terror boat from Pakistan; border roads in the North-East and around India; Operation Rahat evacuating over 4,500 Indians and foreign nationals from Yemen’s war zone; over-the-counter purchase of 36 Rafale fighters from France; Australia and Canada to supply uranium; France to make nuclear reactors in India; and making the Indo-US nuclear deal happen.
NOW to the brickbats. These, coming from the political opposition, are standard. What about the party’s own stalwarts? We have Arun Shourie, former minister in the Vajpayee Cabinet, saying that the Modi administration’s economic policy is ‘directionless’ while the social climate is causing ‘great anxiety’ among the minorities. According to Shourie, “The government seems to be more concerned with managing headlines than putting policies in place. The situation is like the many pieces of a jigsaw puzzle lying in a mess with no big picture in mind about how to put them together.” He went still further and said that the troika of Modi, Shah and Jaitley holds sway over everything and this has offended the opposition as well as frightened members of the BJP. “They are the ones responsible for mistakes and they are also the Supreme Court,” he says.
For RSS intellectual and BJP ideologue KN Govindacharya, there is no doubt about the Prime Minister’s intention. However, his policies are questionable. The land ordinance was promulgated only on the basis of compensation and for speeding up acquisition. Social Impact Assessment, consent of land owners/gram sabhas, food security and public interest have been discarded. This was a very wrong move which has antagonised the large farming community. Describing the Make in India campaign as licence to foreigners to benefit at the cost of national interest, he said that no poor or tribal would benefit from this programme as well as the smart city project. Govindacharya sums up: “If the government claims that it is pro-poor, but is unable to talk to the farmers, while keeping a dialogue going with the corporates, what would the people conclude? The impression coming through is that this government is for the corporate sector. The new government has not been able to translate any of its declarations into reality. There is no indication of achievement, no gesture, only marketing.”
FORMER Union Minister, party veteran and formidable lawyer Ram Jethmalani is unsparing on the issue of recovering black money stashed abroad, which was the prime poll plank of the BJP. In the Supreme Court he slammed the Prime Minister, party president and Finance Minister for issuing empty promises and platitudes to the electorate on the issue: “The present government is not taking effective steps to bring back black money. This is a fraud on the people and the court.” Shah’s statement that the black money issue was nothing more than an “election jumla” reveals the true nature of its leadership!
Financial analyst Sucheta Dalal of Moneylife has critiqued the flagship projects of the Modi administration. According to her, while the Jan Dhan Yojana is touted as a major success, there is no clarity on how many new accounts were actually opened and how many will remain after eliminating duplicates. Bankers were under intense pressure and impossible targets were set by the Finance Ministry to report a large number of accounts opened. Intermediaries took the same set of people from one bank to another to enable them to fulfil targets. The last-mile linkage between account-holders and the bank is yet to happen. Nobody is clear what shape this will take or the safety and security issues involved. Jan Dhan accounts, opened with the minimal ‘know your customer’ checks, could easily become conduits for laundering black money.
After the initial blaze of publicity about its celebrity brand ambassadors, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan has waned. Basic issues of garbage collection and disposal, which are the domain of local municipalities, remain neglected in most parts of India. The Digital India Programme is the only major initiative that is apparently moving with speed, but the public knows little about this.
While these major initiatives of the Modi administration are yet to impact the lives of ordinary people, a series of other actions, or failure to act, is agitating different segments of the people. The urban middle class, fed up of dealing with corrupt government, stifling red tape and crumbling infrastructure, was looking for Modi to deliver growth and governance. The rural folk had hoped to see better markets for their produce and jobs. Business and industry expected less of red tape, better labour laws, a stable tax regime and an end to ‘taxtortion’ and retrospective actions. Today, there is a creeping despair among all these stakeholders about the lack of action and direction.
Processes might have been set in motion that would eventually lead to achche din. But is the hurried launch of new institutions without a proper roadmap and shutting down failed relics the right method? The Planning Commission has transmogrified into NITI Aayog but nobody is quite sure about its role and whether it will fulfil the objective of being lean and effective. Mudra Bank has been hurriedly set up without touching dozens of legacy institutions and schemes that had failed in the very same objectives over the past decades. All of them continue to live off taxpayers’ money.
If these were not enough, business is chafing at slow reforms, pursuit of retrospective taxation cases and the apparent intolerance of this government of criticism. Instead of targeting the most obvious founts of unaccounted for money, the government’s Black Money Bill mainly seeks to arrogate more power to tax officials to harass people who have assets overseas. Whether it unearths any black money or not, the Bill is certain to unleash a wave of ‘taxtortion’. The Modi administration continues to be led by the same abominable bureaucracy which has harassed law-abiding Indians for decades while lawbreakers escaped punishment. Dalal finally raises the question: Who is thegovernment working for and why?
After hearing the hailers and critics, let us come to the brass tacks. During his campaign and on assuming office, the core of Modi’s agenda was ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ and ‘Minimum Government, Maximum Governance’. But one year down the line there is no sign of any governance architecture or blueprint. Governance has been reduced to government, its bureaucracy, laws, rules, policies, programmes, processes, procedures and an inventory of measures for ‘ease of business’. There is no realisation that governance is far more than that and in reality is a joint venture between the government, industry, farmers and civil society. The government creates a conducive political, administrative, legal and living environment; industry/farming promotes enterprise and generates jobs and wealth; and, civil society, represented by the voluntary sector, educates and mobilises citizen groups to participate in economic, social and political activities. All are partners in the venture of good governance, which alone can bring about achche din.
Being a joint venture, governance should adhere to the basic functional norm of involving all stakeholders in the decisionmaking and implementation process. Only then can ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ happen. But what is happening is just the opposite. Voluntary sector institutions and individuals are being hounded with many of them on the anti-national list, farmers stand banished from the mainstream, small industries and factory workers are in a limbo and the poor have nowhere to go.
ON this disturbing scenario, eminent social activist Aruna Roy has this to say: “The hallmark of the Modi government is to brook no dissent, silence all civil society organisations that have even the mildest difference of opinion with them and wherever possible, adopt the undemocratic route of ordinance and not be accountable even to Parliament.” As for governance, “the rights over which civil society had fought hard for over two decades, such as the Right to Information, are being undermined and we are seeing a return to the days of lack of transparency and accountability.”
As pracharak, Chief Minister, prime campaigner and Prime Minister, Modi is fully aware of the adage: “In the public domain truth is not the truth, perception is the truth.” He also knows the art of ‘mind management’. So mind-capturing slogans-‘Saal ek, shuruaat anek’ and ‘Modi sarkar, vikaas lagatar’-have been coined to be used as tools of perception management.
As the first Modi milestone passes, the societal divide and the chasm are evident. For buccaneer businessmen, lagatar vikas has come and it is “Ghar ghar Modi, Bharat bhar Modi”. But for the parched peasants and the penniless poor, it is neither Saath norVikaas and not even Shuruaat!
The writer is a former Army and IAS officer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org