After 2 Years, How Well Has Narendra Modi Fared as India's Prime Minister?

 
 

The National Democratic Alliance government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed charge two years ago, on May 26, 2014. It is a good time to undertake an assessment of how Modi has fared so far; have the promises he made been realized or not?

Most people think that the promise of “achhe din” (good days) for India has not been met. The level of energy and enthusiasm that was unleashed by Modi two years ago seems to have been all but dissipated.

So has Modi failed? This would be a harsh and sweeping judgment. His critics cite the losses in State elections in Delhi and Bihar to say that the Modi magic has evaporated. Against this estimation it needs to be kept in mind that Modi continues to be the most popular leader in the country, with none of the other leaders coming anywhere near him.

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While making a fair and balanced evaluation of Modi’s performance, we need to recognize that expectations from Modi at the time when he took office were totally unrealistic. People wanted immediate results whether it was in providing jobs, lowering prices, improving agriculture, promoting business and industry, etc. No leader, even with the best of intentions and a majority in both Houses of Parliament, could have met these expectations considering the fractious polity, complexity, and magnitude of challenges confronted by the country.

Modi won the election on the twin planks of “development” and “good governance.” It will be instructive to see how he has performed on these two fronts.

On development, although there have been some shortcomings, the government has taken several significant decisions in the economic field, resulting in initiatives such as Make in India, Swachh Bharat (Clean India), Clean Ganga, Skill India, Jan Dhan Yojana (People’s Bank Plan), Crop Insurance Program, and several more. All these initiatives need to be implemented with determination so that their results become evident quickly. It is particularly essential to increase the share of manufacturing in economy so that more jobs are created, to promote cleanliness so that productivity increases and expenditure on health care declines, equip people with the right skills and training so that challenge of providing one million jobs every month can be met, and increase the productivity and well-being of farmers and villages. It is also vital to provide suitable training to India’s youth to reap the full dividend of the demographic advantage.

But the economy has faced challenges as well. Although overall inflation has been arrested, the prices of food items have soared. This is one of the biggest shortcomings of the Modi government. Another is its failure to provide jobs to the youth. Macro-economic indicators like FDI, inward remittances, and a high-level GDP growth of 7.5 percent don’t mean much unless they are translated into lower prices for essential commodities and more jobs for young people. Meanwhile, India’s exports have declined continuously for the last 20 months because of contracting international demand.

On the other hand, the government has taken good advantage of ebbing energy prices and simultaneously moved to hike its target of renewable energy to 175 GW over the next 10 years. Significant progress has been registered in vital areas of railways, roads, power, and other infrastructure. But a lack of adequate power in the Rajya Sabha (the Upper House of Parliament) for the NDA has hobbled the government’s reform drive to push through crucial measures like the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and labor reforms.

In governance, the government has permitted itself to be put on the back foot by its opponents. Its promise of ”sabka saath, sabka vikaas” (“unity with all, development for all”) has not been translated into action so far. In several areas like so-called love-jihad (religious intermarriage), ghar wapsi (“returning home,” or religious conversions), and the beef ban, the government has allowed fringe fundamentalist elements in the party to hold center stage. This has encouraged the opposition to regroup under a banner of rising intolerance and paint the government in an unflattering light. Mishandling of student protestors at Hyderabad University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and now possibly even Jadavpur, could cost Modi dearly by depleting his voter support among the youth of the country.

A big success for the government, however, is that there is not a whiff of any huge corruption scandal or scam over the last two years. Revelations of such frauds were a weekly occurrence during the last years of the previous government’s tenure. Modi can be justifiably proud of this achievement.

On external affairs, the Modi government has scored high marks in formulating and implementing foreign policy. Some analysts tend to term Modi’s initiatives as a failure because of India’s difficult and tense relations with its neighbors like Pakistan, China, Nepal, and Maldives. However, fractious relations with Pakistan and China have existed for a long time. Initiatives by the Modi government have put India in a stronger position, although they might not have necessarily helped in improving bilateral relations.

Under Modi, India has sought to diminish the significance of Pakistan in its foreign policy formulation and establish strategic partnerships with countries like the United States and Japan to enhance New Delhi’s maneuverability to deal with the increasingly assertive behavior of China. Difficult and stressed relations with Nepal and the Maldives, meanwhile, are due to India being sucked into the vortex of domestic politics in these countries. Modi’s vision, energy, and infectious enthusiasm in strengthening relations with big and medium powers like the United States, Germany, Japan, Russia, France, ASEAN, the U.K., Australia, South Korea, Central Asia, and West Asia have been productive as he has made foreign policy a significant element in India’s domestic economic development. Modi has used India’s soft power — yoga, culture, and philosophy — to good effect as well. Finally, he has actively and effectively reached out to the Indian diaspora to make them active partners in India’s progress and development.

Modi’s achievements have been substantial although they might not measure up to the impossible hype and hope of ”achhe din”(good days) enunciated two years ago. In the coming year, Modi and his colleagues will need to ensure that macro policies get implemented efficaciously and that their impact is felt by the people. On the governance side it will be necessary to rein in the extremist elements who tend to take the focus away from development.

The coming year will be of crucial significance in shaping Modi’s legacy, which he will present to the people in 2019 for another chance at the prime ministership.

Ashok Sajjanhar is a career diplomat who has served as Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia, as also as Secretary/Principal Executive Officer of the National Foundation for Communal Harmony, an autonomous organization with the Ministry of Home Affairs. He has held several significant positions in Indian embassies in Washington, Moscow, Brussels, Geneva, Bangkok, Tehran and Dhaka.

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