OPINION | If There’s One Thing His First 50 Days Have Shown, It’s That Success Hasn’t Changed Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s style of functioning is the same and he is relentlessly optimistic both on his party's future and India's.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is garlanded by BJP leaders Amit Shah and others during the BJP parliamentary party meeting, in New Delhi on July 2, 2019. (PTI)
Those who expected silver bullet fixes for the economy, the farm sector, the job market, environment and social harmony may be disappointed with the Modi government's first 50 days, but the general sentiment is, well begun is half done.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is said to be a typical Virgo, blessed with pragmatism, superior analytical and organisational skills and an authoritative personality. In his second innings, he brought these qualities to bear on the sluggish economy and the business of governance.
Living up to his populist, nationalist and development-oriented image, PM Modi sent out a message of non-sectarianism, reiterated his antodaya philosophy and took rapid-fire decisions to address persistent economic problems and trigger growth, aimed at building the desired 5-trillion dollar economy.
For farmers, income support and higher MSPs. For MSMEs, subvention on GST. For manufacturing, labour reforms and more credit. For the poor, continuing rollout of electricity, roads, health, fuel and housing schemes. For small traders and unorganised workers, a pension scheme.
He approved a new version of the Wage Bill (the first of the four labour codes) which had floundered in 2017, as well as the death penalty for child abuse. He also greenlighted amendments to the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, sacked the chairman of the J&K Bank and summarily dismissed 12 tainted income tax officials, as part of the clean-up initiated with the ban on unregulated financial schemes earlier this year.
On the foreign policy front, he acted on his Neighbourhood First policy by inviting BIMSTEC leaders to his swearing-in, delivering an uncompromising anti-terror message at the SCO summit, making time for quick visits to Sri Lanka and the Maldives and chatting with US president Donald Trump on the sidelines of G-20. In a spare moment, he wrote the epitaph of the Karnataka government.
Does the medley of measures in the first 50 days add up to a harmony? Not everyone is convinced. Capital markets slid 300 points during the Finance Minister's budget speech, in the absence of a consumer spending stimulus and the expected tax rebates and concessions.
Those who dismiss Mr Modi's efforts as crumbs and platitudes point to the persisting problem of NPAs, slow credit growth (despite recapitalisation of PSBs) and extant systemic rot as testified by the debt-ridden ILF&S, DHFL, Jet Airways, ADAG group and Yes Bank.
They bemoan the disappearance of low-cost lending, low-risk avenues for savings, feeble private investment, fall in corporate earnings and impact of the global slowdown on the service sector. They view the recommended transfer of the RBI surplus to the government as a bailout rather than a booster and conclude that growth prospects are poor.
Similarly, no systemic reforms have been proposed for the agriculture sector and the existing schemes suffer from implementation issues. The band-aid approach to agrarian distress will ameliorate conditions for the present, but long-term measures are needed. Will they materialise?
Likewise, creating the Jal Shakti ministry to address water security is a step forward, even though it isn't quite clear whether the approach will be informed by water 'conservation' or water 'exploitation'.
They hype around the '100 days programme' may have led to the first 50 days falling short of expectations, but there is no overt dissatisfaction. The majority is willing to wait and watch. While short and medium term growth boosters did not materialise, in the long run they expect PM Modi to deliver an enabling environment for growth through better governance, efficient use of resources, technology innovation and so on.
On the political front, PM Modi has made all the right noises, but just how the increasing aggression of Right-wing cadre will be contained remains to be seen. Mr Modi once described his secularism as “justice to all, appeasement to none”, but that message is yet to percolate to the rank-and-file. The issue is tricky, more so because it plays out under the lens of the global media. Handling it without alienating the BJP's core constituency will require both toughness and sensitivity.
If there's one thing the first 50 days have shown, it is that success hasn't changed PM Modi. His 'closed' style of functioning is the same, he is still distrustful of Lutyens’ Delhi lobbies, relies on very few trusted advisors, remains a bit of an ascetic and eschews flattery and triumphalism, but is not willing to give the Opposition an inch. He is relentlessly optimistic both on his party's future and India's.
(Author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)
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