It's Time for Modi to Ensure that Minimum Government is More Visible in Maximum Action
Politics is more about perception than performance. As Narendra Modi completes his first year in office this month, the scrutiny of his performance by both critics and admirers has breached the thermal limit. Since he conquered the harried heart of the scam-stung voter, expectations were frighteningly vertiginous. In May 2014, he set the tone and tenor of public discourse. He converted ‘development’ from being just a slogan into a manifold mission. As an oratorical oracle, Modi was able to convince all that he was the monolithic messiah who would rid India of its miseries. The Modi Model of politics and governance got unprecedented national approval. During the past 11 months, he gave India many new ideas and suggested innovations like Swachh Bharat, Make in India and Digital India.
In May 2015, however, the tide of national narrative seems to be turning. Despite Modi’s stellar achievements in foreign policy, ensuring economic stability, movement towards devolution of financial powers to the states, emphasis on infrastructure development and taming corruption, the public focus has shifted to the agrarian crisis, Ghar Wapsi and insensitive remarks made by leaders on women issues. The sudden shift from performance to perception about the nature, composition and intent of the BJP-led government is worrisome. It symbolises the chinks in the marketing strategy and inability of NDA spinmeisters to sustain the enormous goodwill towards Modi’s résumé as Gujarat’s CM.
In the fog of their fallacies, the fact that inflation has fallen significantly, the trade deficit is under control and many new initiatives have been taken in the infrastructure sector is being ignored. India’s swift intervention in restoring normalcy in earthquake-traumatised Nepal has been lauded worldwide. For the first time in the country, electricity generation in 2014-15 crossed one trillion units, showing a growth rate of 8.4 per cent over the previous year—the highest in the last two decades. The government successfully auctioned spectrum and coal mines without any questions being raised over the mode and manner of selling natural resources.
Yet, it is not Modi’s performance that is grabbing the headlines. Newspapers, opinion-makers and even diplomats are now discussing whether a rejuvenated Rahul Gandhi would be able to put the brakes on the Modi juggernaut. Undoubtedly, the BJP has become the world’s largest political outfit with the enrolment drive under party president Amit Shah taking the membership to 10 crore. Yet its sartorially obsessed spokespersons are losing out to their counterparts in other parties over ignorance on debating issues. They have made negativism their prime weapon. Even during parliamentary debates, Union ministers and senior leaders go on the defensive when facing consistent cannonade from a united opposition.
Their charges give the impression that the BJP is keen to propitiate only those who control industry and diplomacy. For a change, even Rahul found some support in the social media and seized prime time space when he dubbed the NDA as a suited and booted government. On land acquisition, Rahul’s barbs are capturing more eyeballs than the entire Team Modi. While he and other Opposition leaders wax eloquent on farmers and women’s woes, most BJP leaders are defending the Land Bill, which hardly helps the ruling party fight the battle of perception. Even though over a dozen ministers are being pummelled metaphorically on India’s streets and villages on the bill, it hasn’t prevented the ruling clique to attempt any course correction and bring the debate back to the core issue of real performance. With most of the upper echelons of government being inaccessible, the NDA government is most conspicuous by its invisibility.
Perhaps Team Modi has lost the plot. For it, ratcheting up the reform raga instead of governance appears to be the only benchmark to measure the popularity and success of the government. Its victories in getting important legislations like the Insurance Bill and FDI in defence are positive signs. Industry would be happy to see the GST Bill passed in Parliament. But all these actions have little to do with helping poor and middle class India, which wants employment, jobs, affordable housing and efficient public transport. Nothing seems to have moved on these fronts. The dismal fourth quarter results of most Indian companies indicate that the economy is ailing. For the first time in a decade, supply has stagnated with no sign of demand picking up in any sector. Exports are showing a massive fall, which may overturn the gains India had enjoyed due to the massive decline in crude prices.
Yet, Union ministers and CMs are spending more time with business leaders from India and abroad, to invite more investment. Tycoons enjoy and broadcast these tête-à-têtes but are yet to commit to any handsome investments. They only want tax concessions and unhindered access to the Indian market. The Modi government has done much more than the UPA in terms of policy corrections to make India one of the most investor-friendly markets in the world. Yet its magnanimity hasn’t yielded many dividends so far.
In the process, its popularity in middle and rural India has significantly suffered. Poll results in the recent municipal elections in West Bengal have punctured the hype created by a few rootless BJP leaders about the party’s acceptability in the eastern state. Modi’s detractors are now awaiting the outcome of the Assembly polls in Bihar followed by West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. He would be under pressure to play to the gallery by pushing administrative decisions, which would be lauded by the rich.
But Modi has to remember his vow: not to be held hostage to the dissolute Delhi culture, which promotes elitist exclusivity. On his first anniversary as PM, Modi has to insulate himself from enemies more from within than without. He must note that it is he, and not any of his trusted ministers, who is under attack for acts of omissions by the government. His loyalists may be at their verbal best in defending him but some are the worst performers in their own ministries. Modi’s sustainability as a leader with wisdom and vision lies in going back to the basics and the masses. He will do well to engage in reverse economic engineering by de-prioritising the service sector. He has to revive small and medium scale manufacturing and rescue agriculture from imminent death. Delhi, Mumbai and New York can wait. Bharat wouldn’t like Modi to fail because it still sees in him a decisive leader. The time has come for him to ensure that minimum government is more visible in maximum action and delivery.
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