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The Honeymoon Period Is Over, Mr. Modi!

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By Devang Pathak:

If you survey the political world from the last decade, you will find very few leaders who have captured global imagination with their election and appointment like Barack Obama and Narendra Modi. Barack Hussein Obama came into office with a message of hope and change as the first African-American President of the United States of America. As the first non-Congress Prime Minister to secure a clear majority in the Lok Sabha, Mr Modi galvanised Indian optimism in 2014.

modi criticism by media

But as the year ended, so did the so-called honeymoon period of his government. 2015 will be the year when Mr Modi’s promises will be tested and the content will become more important than the jingle.

Legislature Engagement
2014 saw the NDA government take the ordinance route all too often. The National Judicial Appointments Commission bill was the only significant legislation that the government was able to pass and even that is pending approval from the states. The much talked about Insurance Bill and the Land Amendment bill were given the ordinance treatment, with the latter raising eyebrows with the contentious changes it brings in.

The amended law allows for the land of tribal or farmers to be taken for Public-Private partnership projects, without consent or Social Impact Assessment. This is in stark contrast to Mr Modi’s speech in Jharkhand where he argued that “No one could usurp tribal land”. Yet, there was no opportunity to debate and point out this obvious contradiction.

The ordinance route further legitimises the claim of many detractors about the autocratic style of Mr Modi. 2015 will require the government to accept the reality of its numbers in Rajya Sabha and work towards bipartisan support for passing of important legislation.

Economic Growth
A revival in the economic growth is probably the most important expectation the nation has from this pro-business government. The Indian economy enters its most positive first quarter in years with slumping oil prices and a low inflation rate. The promise of growth revival was one of the key factors which saw ardent support for Mr Modi but the first seven months have been a little slow on the reforms expected. The path ahead seems to be based on three factors for the government- increase in public investment, easing of fiscal restrictions for the coming years, and higher revenues from sale of oil, spectrum and disinvestment.

Mr Jaitley has removed the excise concessions for the auto industry and is likely to remove certain subsidies on fuel. Though the NDA government has stated certain expectations from banks, there seems to be slight skirmishes between the Finance Ministry and the Reserve Bank of India. 2015 would require both the custodians of Indian economy to work together to ensure a 5-6% rate of growth as India braces for external shocks such as the continuing war in Middle East and the Russian Economic Crisis. The passage of the long due Goods and Service Tax bill, FDI in railways and defence, and the changes in the Companies Act will help get India the best out of the favourable economic situation with structural corrections.

Boost to Infrastructure Projects
The development agenda of the Prime Minister would be incomplete without the much needed boost to infrastructure growth in the country. The coal ordinance has put in place an efficient and corruption free process for coal allocation which can help resolve the energy problems faced by the country. However, the National Energy Policy, which was promised in the BJP mandate of 2014, is yet to be announced. The Transport Minister has proposed many swift changes to the road transportation facilities of the country such as electronic toll booths and there will be a close vigilance on him following up on those claims. The Clean Ganga initiative was given a boost by the setting up of the Ganga Rejuvenation plan under the Water Ministry. A comprehensive plan which states the roadmap to bringing this vision to fruition is still awaited.

Strengthening of the Federal Structure
The Niti Ayog is the first step towards greater centre-state coordination. The federal structure of the constitution means that while the central government can enact laws, their ultimate implementation and acceptance is dependent on the states. Mr Modi has been a divisive leader and the challenge of bipartisanship which he faces in the Parliament gets repeated when it comes to states. The leaders of the non-BJP states, who have often been targets for Mr Modi during polls, are not keen on co-operating with the government. While a special mention of the North-East was made in the BJP Mandate, the recent escalation of violence in Assam in the backdrop of the largest migration in the country in 2012 means that the government must work towards protection of individual states as well.

Clarity on Secularism
The NDA alliance made secularism a much maligned word in 2014 by linking it to the Congress’s communal agenda. The truth is that secularism is a part of the Indian identity, given recognition by the constitution as well.

The last two months of 2014 saw the government face immense flak for its leaders and ministers making insensitive and, often communal statements. These were responsible for derailing the winter session of the parliament as well as a vindication for the detractors of the Hindutava agenda of the government. Mr Modi’s silence and failure for stern, re-assuring action on the errant leaders also raised many questions.

There are still many serious concerns as the New Year ushers in- the influence of the Sangh Parivar on policy decisions such as the HRD Ministry, the pandering to Sangh base by established leaders like Sushma Swaraj who asked that the Bhagavad Gita be declared the country’s national book and the constant back-channel negotiations with the RSS. Mr Modi needs to prove in 2015 that while “India first” is his philosophy, he recognises and respects all religions and ethnicities in the country as well as their problems and fears.

Foreign Policy Conversions
While the Prime Minister has spent his seven months stirring a favourable impression with the Indian Diaspora and the international community, 2015 needs to see the pay-off of the positive notes with the countries. The goodwill generated by Mr Modi’s visits to the West, Japan and Australia need to be translated into concrete policies which boost Indian interests in the long term as well as strengthen the SAARC initiative, a process restarted in 2014.

While Pakistan remains a difficult neighbour, there is a need to restart the dialogue process which brings resolution to the decade old issues we have faced as well as a tougher resolve to end India-targeted terrorism. The visit of the Chinese premier which was seen as a positive highlight preceded an encroachment on Indian Territory by Chinese troops. The present government was timidly akin in its response to the UPA to the blatant attack on Indian sovereignty. India needs to assert its interests and autonomy with every neighbour in equal measure and not allow any exceptions.

Lastly, Lesser on Platitudes and More on Action.
On a personal note, I believe that the PM needs to lessen the platitudes offered and follow it up with more clear action. While Make in India, Swacch Bharat, Digital India, Visa on Arrival for US and Australia were conceptually brilliant policies, the concepts fail to hold in deeper introspections.

Swacch Bharat requires a change in attitude which does not come from speeches with banalities or challenges to celebrities, while Make in India should aim at Indian manufacturing and not foreign investors. The essential promise of toilets and sanitation, which was reiterated in the Red Fort speech has still not been outlined with specific details by the government.

Mr Obama’s speeches and body language made him a force to reckon with in 2008. Mr Modi’s meteoric rise to India’s top job can be seen as a clear parallel using the same strategy. But as Obama learnt the hard way, inspiring speeches and policy ideas are not enough- decisive action is vital and imminent. Here is hoping that our Prime Minister takes a note from Mr Obama’s story and delivers on his ambitious promises.

You must be to comment.
  1. Dr Avinash Sinha

    Dear Sir,
    I beg to differ from you & feel that you have blindfolded yourself.
    I hope that people would reply you & hence I don’t reply you.
    Dr Avinash Sinha.

  2. Harsh Doshi

    Check out the latest article on how Brand Modi can potentially transform Indian Politics on Harsh Doshi’s blog, Fine Baked Bread.
    https://finebakedbread.wordpress.com/2015/01/11/can-brand-modi-get-indian-politics-to-work-the-corporate-way/

  3. Aditya

    1) You cannot engage a legislature that does not want to engage and tries to stall parliament now and then. Ask Congress, Trinamool and other small opposition parties to function in parliament and not do their usual stuff on taxpayers money. We dont want sessions of the parliament wasted.

    2) I am seeing a revival of growth. Just open your eyes buddy. If this is in 8 months then I have high hopes.

    3)The coal ordinance faced ire of coal workers who feared the loss of precious politics if private sector came in. Private sector demands efficiency while in PSUs efficiency is lesser. Any harsh stance would be detrimental to the security of the nation.

    4) Federal Structure is being strengthened. As you have seen the case of Asaam, I believe the NDFB are on run due to the Indian Army and IB. It was a mistake of Asaam Police to let them make a comeback. Not the govt of India. But govt acted swiftly, not in the way congress govt acted.

    5) Secularism is a bitter word for me now. How secularism was misused for appeasement. How political parties like AIMIM and IUML become secular. How azaan on loudspeaker is secular but aarti on loudspeaker is communal. I am fed up of such secularism and so are many other people. Being called a secular makes me feel as a gaali now.
    I have also seen the secular intellectuals questioning the democratic process just after the election results.

    6) Foreign Policy I think is on a good scale. The response to China was not timid but assertive. You should check your facts.

    7) You should actually go out and see the change. It is also happening at a micro level. If you have some complaint try to do it. I have tried and got the results. Also visit mygov.in for participating in the governance part. The government is connecting and you are failing to notice that.

    1. Shrihari kulkarni

      Agreed
      100%

  4. Nafeesa

    Well said Devang Pathak. I know many will oppose the facts you’ve pointed out. There are many blind followers indeed. Bottom line is action speaks louder then words. So if he does good of course it’ll be appreciated, if he doesn’t it will be pointed out.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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