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Modi's India: The first 30 days

Debraj Bhattacharya

Updated: June 26, 2014, 1:41 PM IST
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Narendra Modi led NDA government has completed its first 30 days in office following a massive electoral victory in May. While it is too early to pass any judgment as to whether the new government will be able to live up to the expectations of the people who have voted him to power, we can nonetheless see certain trends emerging. Let me briefly try to recap some of the crucial developments happening over the last one month.

Modi and his Ministers

India's Modi era started with a gala swearing-in ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on May 26. This was attended by the elite of India ranging from corporate tycoons to spiritual gurus. The leaders of the SAARC countries, including Nawaz Sharif were also present.

Soon after, Modi announced a new catchy mantra "minimum government, maximum governance", whatever that means. In effect it meant fewer Ministers but not fewer Ministries. Most of the Ministers are not experienced which probably means that they will rely a lot on the PMO for direction. One of the Ministers, Gopi Nath Munde, had an unfortunate accident and passed away. The choice of Smriti Irani as HRD Minister raised a minor storm in view of her academic record. Another Minister Nihal Chand Meghwal from Rajasthan is accused of rape. BJP has refused to remove him from office alleging it is political conspiracy. Association of Democratic Rights, a civil society organisation, has produced data that shows that 30 per cent of the Ministers have criminal charges against them, while 18 per cent have serious charges. One of the Ministers, Sanjeev Balyan, is accused in the Muzaffarnagar riot case. Perhaps Modi could have chosen only those who have a clean record.

Inside the Parliament

The new MPs took their oath on June 5. On June 9 President Shri Pranab Mukherjee addressed the new Parliament for the first time and outlined the agenda of the new government. The speech sounded almost socialistic as he said that curbing inflation and reducing poverty is the key task of the new government. In his first speech in the Parliament, Modi focused on changing India's image in the eyes of the world, curbing inflation, reducing violence against women, necessity of skill development, improving sanitation, giving shelter to the poor, improving centre-state relations and making development a "mass movement." Shrimati Sumitra Mahajan was elected as the Speaker of the House.

Governance

A key plank of the Modi campaign was good governance. The first one month however saw several controversies emerging which were not in keeping with the promises made. The new government faced an embarrassment when one of its Ministers, former army Chief General V.K. Singh, accused the Army Chief-Designate Lt General Dalbir Singh Suhag of "dacoity". Senior BJP leader and Defense Minister Arun Jaitley stepped in said that the choice is final. More mindless was a controversy related to the use of Hindi in social media which was opposed by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha and the decision was revised. There was another controversy related to changing of Governors in various states which was opposed by some of the Governors. Till the end of the period no one was however removed. The fourth controversy related to reports that several NGOs were being watched by the IB. This raised fear of silencing the voice of dissent from the civil society. On the positive side Modi has apparently emphasised on longer working hours and cleaner offices for the various Ministries. The administration has been told to speed up the process of clearing files. The Cabinet took an important positive decision to form an SIT to unearth black money stashed abroad and there were reports that the Swiss authorities are preparing a list of names of people who have black money in Swiss Banks. However it was made clear by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley that no communication has been received from the Swiss government in this regard. Delhi witnessed a period of power shortage which resulted in a familiar political blame game but not much relief for the poor and middle-class of the city.

Rural and Urban Development

The focus of the President's address as well as Narendra Modi's maiden speech in Parliament was on "development" but not much actually happened in terms of changes in policies related to development of the country that were initiated during ten years of UPA rule. There was a hint from Venkiah Naidu that JNNURM may be changed and an announcement from Nitin Gadkari that Ganga and Yamuna rivers would cleaned and trees would be planted but not much beyond that. The only major decision that was taken was that the height of the Narmada Dam would be raised, a decision that was opposed by Medha Patkar, activist of Narmada Bachao Andolan and AAP leader. She argued that the Ministry should first assess the ground situation, a suggestion that seems to be sensible enough.

Foreign Policy

The invitation to SAARC country leaders, especially Nawaz Sharif, for the swearing-in ceremony was a positive step towards building good relations with the neighbours. Sharif had a meeting with Modi in Delhi also later sent a letter of thanks. However there was also firing at the border in Kashmir between the two sides, indicating that stable relations between the two countries would require lot more work. The Prime Minister's first foreign tour was to Bhutan. He made an embarrassing mistake by saying "Nepal" when he wanted to say "Bhutan" but otherwise the trip went off well with both sides reiterating their commitment to developing hydro-power and India promising Bhutan to help build its Supreme Court.

Economy

The first thirty days did not turn out to be good for the economy although initially the stock markets were jubilant after the swearing-in of the new Prime Minister. Inflation reached a five month high and it has been predicted that onion prices will reach Rs 100 by September-October. Growth rate was sluggish as India recorded it's below 5 per cent growth rate for the second year in a row. Railway fares were hiked by 14.2 per cent and freight charges were also hiked by 6.5 per cent. While some have argued that this was bold decision to improve the financial health of the Railways, it is also likely to impact on inflation and therefore further increase the sufferings of the poor people of the country.

Communalism

Communalism unfortunately raised its ugly head almost as soon as the new government came to power. On the day of the swearing-in there was a minor clash between Hindus and Muslims in Ahmedabad. This was followed by the ghastly murder of a Muslim IT professional in Pune by Hindu Rashtra Sena. There were several arrests made. RSS expressed its disapproval of Article 370 leading to a verbal confrontation with Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister. Legal notice was served by Dinanath Batra to Orient Blackswan who capitulated before the demand by deciding to review Shekhar Bandypadhyay's well-known text book "From Plessey to Partition" and also 'set aside' another academic book "Communalism and Sexual Violence: Ahmadabad since 1969." Thus the trend that was started when Wendy Doninger book "Hinduism: An Alternative History" was pulped by Penguin under a similar 'legal' threat has continued.

The Finance Minister is expected to present his first budget in the second week of July. This will make the policy orientation of the new government clearer. Till then one can say there has been some good moves in foreign policy. However inflation, IB watch on NGOs and incidences of communal violence is worrying. More needs to be done to reduce rape and murder of women which continues unabated. "Acchey Din" is clearly still some distance away.
First Published: June 26, 2014, 1:41 PM IST