Modi Sarkar @2

By Dinesh Narayanan
By any yardstick, it has been a tumultuous second year for India under the Narendra Modi government. Narendra Modi, the long serving Gujarat chief minister, created history when he stormed into the prime minister's office in 2014, the first non-Congress leader to occupy the office with a secure majority in the Lok Sabha, or the lower house of Parliament. Modi's victory was not only an indicator of how disillusioned Indians had become of the Congress Party that had ruled the republic for most of its independent existence but also how eager voters were to give a chance to a new leader who promised to secure their future in an economically advanced India. As he completes two years of his five-year term, fulfilling that promise remains a work in progress.
Modi is one of the most popular leaders India has ever had. An ET-TNS survey across seven cities in April showed his popularity undiminished. Of 16,732 polled in an ABP-Nielsen January survey across 109 constituencies, just 11% considered his prime ministerial performance as poor. No politician in the past 30 years has occupied the public's mind space as he has.Having come to power promising development for all, Modi certainly would have liked a galloping economy to grab headlines in his second year in the saddle. But it was not the year of the economy.
It was the year of politics; of loss, of new tropes and fresh chasms that would change the country forever. Opposition parties may be feeling upbeat about their consolidation against the rulers, but truth is the Bharatiya Janata Party under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah's leadership has successfully weathered electoral setbacks and public outrage to change the terms of national debates to its advantage. The twin-track approach had the prime minister evangelizing his gospel of development all over the country and abroad while the BJP and the Sangh Parivar aggressively pushed an ultra-nationalism that pays tribute to symbols and gestures rather than evolving a refined sense of citizenship. “The Ram Janmabhoomi movement ran on the four wheels of cow, culture, temple and honour of women.The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and BJP were unable to revive that debate until now,'' says Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, political commentator and author of Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times.
In August last year, MM Kalburgi, the Kannada writer and rationalist, who was critical of idol worship and Hindu rituals, was gunned down by unknown assailants. Soon after, 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq of Dadri village in Uttar Pradesh was lynched by a Hindu mob for allegedly slaughtering a calf and storing beef in his house. The killings raised a furore that transformed into a movement called award wapsi (return the award) by prize-winning writers, movie makers and artistes. The movie makers and artists were also protesting the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the director of Pune's Film and Television Institute of India making it a broad brush resistance to what was described in general as rising intolerance. The BJP said the movement was ruining the country's reputation. “Credibility of the country is being subjected to being damaged due to some people glorifying isolated local incidents and some people trying to convert it into a political weapon to defame the ruling party, thus defaming the country...Political intolerance is the genetic trait of Congress,'' the party said, cleverly proposing that the BJP and India were one and a political attack on the party should be considered an attack on the country. The prime minister remained silent. The movement petered out. It was the first step in building a nationalistic narrative exclusively owned by the BJP. More proof came during the Bihar elections.
While Modi stuck to articulating his development agenda for everyone, as the polls advanced in phases, party rhetoric increasingly became jingoistic. “If by any chance the BJP loses this election, while winning and losing will happen in this country, crackers will be burst in celebration in Pakistan,'' party chief Amit Shah said at a rally in Raxaul, reiterating the BJP as the sole guardian of nationalism. The party was routed in the elections with the formidable combination of Lalu Prasad Yadav's RJD, Nitish Kumar's JD(U) and the Congress Party scripting a famous victory. After the party lost, a BJP national executive member from the state analysed the loss, “PM Modi lost the electorate and party chief Amit Shah alienated the party workers.'' Soon, the BJP would take the next step.
The enduring image of the year is of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student leader Kanhaiya Kumar, yelling `freedom' with hand raised in defiance.He was arrested for sedition, the word and action stimulating memories of the distant seventies when under the then prime minister Indira Gandhi dissent was crushed along with the dissenters.
Kumar's arrest by Delhi Police and charging him of sedition triggered off a raging debate on nationalism, sedition and freedom of expression. “Sedition is being camouflaged as freedom of expression. In the name of expression of freedom, the debate on anti-national slogans is being turned in another direction,'' Shah said at the party national executive in March. In that one statement, the party chief conjoined freedom of expression and sedition in such a way that any dissent could be termed anti-national. “The way they handled JNU after Hyderabad University, the BJP and RSS have been able to turn the ideological debate,'' says Mukhopadhyay.
Gradually, the nationalism debate coalesced into a single line, Bharat Mata ki Jai, or Victory to Mother India, the willingness to say it becoming a sort of India's Tebbit test (a test of patriotism proposed by Tory leader Norman Tebbit who questioned the loyalty of immigrants who supported their native countries in cricket matches with England) of patriotism.
A political resolution at the BJP's national executive held in March says: “Our constitution describes India as Bharat also, refusal to chant victory to Bharat is tantamount to disrespect to our Constitution itself. Bharat Mata ki Jai is not merely a slogan... It is the reiteration of our constitutional obligations as citizens to uphold its primacy.'' That the BJP got the upper hand in that debate was proven when Congress legislators in the Maharashtra assembly ganged up with the NCP and Shiv Sena to get AIMIM legislator Waris Pathan suspended for refusing to say the slogan. Further affirmation came from Himachal Pradesh. As the budget session of the Himachal Pradesh assembly concluded on April 8, Congress chief minister Virbhadra Singh shouted Bharat Mata ki Jai thrice taking everyone, including the opposition by surprise. He later said: “(I said it) because I am a true patriot and a nationalist at heart. I always feel proud when I say `Bharat Mata ki Jai'. It's not an issue of debate and it's not related to any religion. Every Indian -Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian -should take pride in the slogan.'' That statement was not very different from BJP's ideological parent RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's. ``Now the time has come when we have to tell the new generation to chant Bharat Mata Ki Jai. It should be real, spontaneous and part of all-round development of the youth,“ Bhagwat had said at a public function in March.
Modi refused to be drawn into any of the debates, keeping silent on most of the issues. At the national executive he advised partymen to not pay attention to irrelevant issues, remain focused on their “agenda of vikas, vikas, vikas'' (development, development, development) and help spread awareness about government programmes such as Swachch Bharat. The only time he spoke, that too after a few days' delay, was when 26-year-old Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula killed himself unable to escape the “fatal accident of his birth''. “A mother has lost her `laal' (son). Politics aside, the fact is that we lost a son. I can understand the pain,'' Modi said.
Vemula, who hanged himself in a hostel room of the Hyderabad Central University wrote these enduring words in his suicide note: “The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number.'' That is precisely the Modi administration has to keep in mind if it were to come anywhere close to the prime minister's stated dream at the ET Global Business Summit: A transformed India where all citizens have the opportunity to reach their full potential.
When he came to power two years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi seemed to be a man in a hurry. And rightly so.Years of wonky policy making by unstable coalition governments had prevented the country from cashing in on several factors in its favour.
Early in the last decade, many economists and policymakers had figured that for the next few decades India would produce more able bodied young men and women than any other country.This demographic bulge would be a great asset if the huge workforce was educated and trained.If favourable conditions were created for entrepreneurs and adequate infrastructure put in place, India could be racing towards becoming a developed nation. None of that happened and Modi inherited a struggling economy.
On October 2, 2014, he launched the Swachch Bharat Mission, a massive government effort to clean up 4041 cities and towns of the country and get people to use toilets instead of defecating in the open.
A week before the clean-up campaign began Modi launched Make in India, an initiative aimed at attracting foreign capital and luring global industries to set up manufacturing bases in India.
The prime minister became the chief salesman of the scheme as he toured the globe meeting heads of state and wooing big ticket investors.To save time, he slept on the plane, flew through the night and packed in as many meetings as possible every day. In the two years that he has been in office, Modi has visited 40 countries, including the US, the fount of global capital flows, thrice. As a result, foreign direct investments jumped 44% in the past two years to over $63 billion, Commerce and industry minister Nirmala Sitaraman told Parliament a fortnight ago.
Modi also ratcheted up expectations from his ministers. The roads ministry was set a target of building 30 km of highways daily.
When railway minister Suresh Prabhu sat down to prepare his budget, Modi regularly took meetings with the team and made suggestions. He launched several initiatives -Skill India, Startup India, Digital India -on mission mode. To keep the bureaucracy on its toes, the government started PRAGATI, or ProActive Governance and Timely Implementation, a platform on which every fourth Wednesday of the month, the prime minister personally takes stock of government work and major schemes.Union secretaries and chief secretaries of states directly interact with the prime minister appraising him of issues and reviewing progress of various projects.
Even though Modi put his office's weight behind improving governance, many of the key reforms such as a countrywide uniform goods and services tax and a law to smoothen land acquisition for infrastructure projects and industries remained stalled in parliament for lack of political consensus. Political issues overshadowed lawmaking in the past few sessions of Parliament and despite the ruling party's overwhelming strength in Lok Sabha, key legislations came up against the numerical superiority of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha. So much so, that the Aadhar Bill--a vital law to underpin the government's targeted cash transfer programme--had to be introduced as a money bill which the upper house could not reject or amend.
During Modi's two years in office, a sluggish global economy hurt India's exports but low global commodity prices helped the country keep inflation low and trade balance in reasonable health. Though that improved the government's financial maneuverability, the domestic economy did not grow as fast as the administration expected as corporate balance sheets remained stressed and new projects dried up. Many in the government are keeping their fingers crossed that the steps they are taking now would lay the foundation for growth in the coming years.

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