Riding on the promise of ‘Achhe Din’ (good days), the National Democratic Alliance under Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed charge of the country by winning the 2014 parliamentary elections with a thumping majority. Some saw Modi as India’s great liberator – the leader who would finally deliver development to India, fix the wrongdoings of the Congress government and raise millions of Indians out of poverty. Two and a half years later, India remains a country of great potential, at best with ‘communalisation’, ‘demonetisation’ and ‘surgical strikes‘ having become the big buzzwords that define Modi’s tenure.
The Modi government had a fairly decent start with its early days marked by a stroke of good luck (read: fall in oil prices, a product of global equations at play) and consequent economic growth that came with it. Politically, the good phase was however short lived as BJP experienced losses in both Delhi and Bihar. There have been victories too. The four assembly elections—Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand, and Jammu and Kashmir—sent the BJP to power, either in alliance or independently. In the 2017 state assembly elections too, the party delivered stunning electoral performance in Manipur, Uttarakhand and Goa. Its biggest victory, however, came in Uttar Pradesh, where the party secured a clean sweep, regarded by many as a personal triumph for Modi who had led the high octane campaign. But how has Modi fared in his two and a half years of governance?
On the economic front, Modi has turned out to be more of an economic policy tinkerer than the radical reformer some optimists had expected. Since 2014, he has pursued a set of policies that aim not only to revive the economy, but also to make it more competitive and resilient to external shocks. While the initial goal was to revive a stalling economy, recent reforms have been bolder. The demonetization of large-denomination rupee bills meant to tackle tax avoidance and corruption and move India toward becoming a cashless society, is a case in point. The government has also finally managed to secure an in-principle parliamentary approval for a uniform Goods and Services Tax (GST) intended to replace a complicated collection of regional and national levies and reform the country’s tax structure.
The result of Modinomics, so far though, has been mixed at best. Despite its best efforts and schemes like Startup India and Make in India, it still remains extremely difficult to start or run a business in India. Demonetization, hailed as a game-changing move by the government, has severely impacted India’s short-term growth, and is expected to even have damaging long-term effects.
Perhaps the biggest failure of this government in this regard is its inability to create more jobs for the country’s youth – one of its major poll promises. After all, macroeconomic indicators and a high-level GDP growth of 7.5% don’t mean much unless they translate into a better quality life and meaningful opportunities for India’s citizens, especially the young. From 3.8% in 2011, the unemployment rate has risen to 5% in 2017.
On the cultural and governance front, the Modi government has been found wanting in many aspects. Its promise of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas” has remained just that – a promise the government has failed to deliver on. Whether it was the Dadri lynching episode, or so-called instances of 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 centerstage, in turn spawning insecurity amongst the country’s minority groups. Incidents at Hyderabad University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and Jadavpur University have not only polarized the country, but also introduced terms like intolerance and anti-national to its lexicon.
Through all this, the government has spoken in three voices. The first is the official voice led by Modi himself, where he makes all the right noises. Then there is the voice of his venomous social media supporters, who provide cover for government’s policies. The third voice is the unofficial, ambivalent one used to tacitly support random ministers who support radical or outrageous pronouncements. The strategy seems to be clear – rake up issues to divide communities, and vociferously criticize those who try talking about it.
Modi’s greatest success has come internationally. He has energised India’s foreign policy, by not only openly courting countries like South Korea, Australia and Germany, but also sought to establish strategic partnerships with countries like Japan and US to deal with an increasingly belligerent China. He has not only marketed India’s soft power – yoga, culture and philosophy – well, but also effectively tapped into the vast Indian diaspora across the world by speaking to them directly. Relations with neighbours like Pakistan, Nepal and Maldives may still be fractious, but even there, the government has put India in a stronger position compared to the previous government.
Another big success the government can talk about is the absence of any news related to corruption over the last two and a half years of its tenure. News of such scams was a regular occurrence during the time of the UPA government. There is one thing however that hasn’t changed in the last two and half years and it is Modi’s rising popularity. Even through the desperate days of demonetization, Modi continued to command the respect of a significant segment of the population – a phenomenon that’s truly unique at a time when the country doesn’t trust its politicians anymore. The remaining two and a half years are going to be crucial for the PM. He maybe enjoying popular support currently, but Indians are still waiting for him to deliver on his promise of ‘Acche Din’ .
To get another shot at the country’s Prime Ministership, he will have to prove – through substantial change on ground – that he has it in him to lead India to a promising future.