As Narendra Modi government completes one year in office, there is consensus about only one point - Modi's honeymoon phase is over. The country was in mad love with this man who seemed to be a messiah that the country needed badly. The country gave his party, BJP, a majority government - something that no one even in the party thought was possible. Just one year ago it seemed that the country had witnessed a bloodless revolution.
A year later, there is more realism in the air. "Achhe Din" (Good days) were promised by Modi. Today, the expression invites sarcastic smiles across India and is used more often to jeer and ridicule than with any seriousness. No one really believes that good days have arrived. Certainly, neither farmers nor industrialists nor businessmen nor students are dancing with joy. Probably, it is a case of having raised expectations too high.
Surely, when Modi and his orchestra sang about getting one and a half million Rupees in each Indian's bank account by getting back money stashed abroad, they must have known that they were promising the moon. A year later, such promises have come to haunt them. It does not help when Amit Shah tries to shrug it off by saying that such political statements should not be taken seriously. In fact, irresponsible statements and stupid attempts to cover up have done immense damage to the credibility of Modi and his team hurting their larger than life image that had been painstakingly created.
To be fair, this is a problem of democracy and not of Modi. In a democracy, the leaders have to promise the moon to win the support of voters. No leader who talks of suffering blood, sweat and tears in the years ahead can hope to win elections. Democracies across the world are facing this problem. During the past two centuries, democracy has flourished only in countries where resources were flowing in from colonies. In countries facing economic hardships (Greece, Portugal etc.) electorate loses patience with the leaders and also to some extent with the democratic process itself.
Modi's challenge is to create an economic miracle. Modi seems to think that he must create a flow of resources from foreign countries to bring about an economic boom which will keep Indian voters enamored of him. He has toured foreign lands extensively during the past year with a single-minded focus on attracting investments. Unfortunately for him, the game-plan is not working too well. While Modi's trips have not led to investors rushing to India with checkbooks, the domestic businessman (and also the populace) has started turning restless and even disillusioned.
The problem is that Modi and Jaitley have made a mistake in their understanding of the country's economic problems. They have a bunch of advisors who have learned their fundamentals of economics in USA. It is such American Advisors who had brought about the ruin of Russia after the break-up of USSR. Russia took a long time to get over the stupidities of the period. American advisors have no understanding of the problems of India, just as they had none of Russia. They have only the arrogance which prevents them from learning on the ground. Unfortunately, Modi and Jaitley have fallen prey to these self-proclaimed saviors of the world.
Modi had become a darling of Indian businessmen when he had talked of less government and more governance (whatever that means). One year later, there are hardly any signs of less government. Taxes have increased. Salaries and perks given to government employees have increased. The amount that government sucks out of the productive part of the Indian economy (farms, industries, mines etc) has increased. Laws that are draconian for the productive elements of Indian society have either been made more harsh or have been relaxed only to the extent that it suits some foreign investor (and not for the small entrepreneur who toils away to make ends meet).
Modi was seen as a non-metro desi simpleton who had risen up from the dirt of this country. One year later, he is seen to be laboring to project himself as a suave metro man not just in his attire but also in his mannerisms and worse in the way governance agenda is being carried out. To give an example, let me talk about a proposed amendment to Negotiable Instruments Act. Supreme Court had ruled about one year back that a case related to bouncing of cheques should be filed only in the place where the bank on whom the cheque is issued is located. Let us say that a finance company based in Mumbai collects a cheque for EMI against a motorcycle from a fellow in Bhopal and the cheque bounces. Earlier the case used to be filed in Mumbai by the finance company. After the Supreme Court ruling the case can be filed only in Bhopal. There are law firms in Mumbai, Delhi and other metros who file such cheque-bouncing cases by hundreds for companies. With thousands or millions of these cases moving to district courts across the country, these law firms face difficult times. Naturally, lawyers in metros are up in arms against this change which helps poor people in villages and towns across the length and breadth of the country. Sadly, Modi and Jaitley have decided to help the lawyers in metros by reversing the decision of the Supreme Court by moving an amendment to Negotiable Instruments Act. No doubt that this act of the government to reverse a decision of Supreme Court to favor metro-based lawyers and companies is a political blunder. Unfortunately, the BJP government has been making too many such blunders.
While I do not enjoy pointing out anyone else's mistakes, there are times that one must do so only out of love and compassion. Every sensible BJP sympathizer was at a loss when a semi-educated Smriti Irani was appointed as the head of country's education machinery. One year after her appointment, she has proved that all the fears were well founded. Her arrogance beats only her lack of understanding of education system. The country tolerated her during the period when the country was going through honeymoon phase with this government. As the relationship between the country and the government hits the hard ground, she will be a liability for the government and a hazard for the country's education system. By continuing to carry her, Modi is risking a murmuring campaign against his government through the country's campuses.
Of course, except just about a couple of Modi's ministers, by and large his team has failed to create much of a positive impression in the past year. Surely, no one has been as much of a disaster as Smriti has been. Nevertheless, the time to wake up, set the house in order, throw out incompetent guys and get some talented ones on board is now.
One year is no time to start condemning any government. Modi is still, undoubtedly, the most popular leader in the country. It will be sad for the country if the huge amount of goodwill available to his government is squandered away. He needs to take stock of the situation and get back to being the quintessential pragmatic Modi whom the country loved. He needs to get rid of the Delhi, Mumbai and US guys who have surrounded him and who seem to have become the face of his government. The country had loved the pragmatic Gujarati desi simpleton and had voted against the smart suave urbane know-all guys of big cities. Is it too much to ask for the real Modi to stand up?
17 May 2015
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ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer and a lawyer by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a legal and management consultant by profession.
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