By Nita Chicooree- Mercier
Indian Prime Minister Sri Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party secured a historic second election victory in India with a higher margin than in 2014 and made inroads in Opposition parties’ strongholds. Unsurprisingly, the Indian electorate gives another mandate to the Prime Minister and his governmental team to pursue the developmental roadmap they initiated in 2014 with utmost commitment and hard work despite mixed results in some policies and tough challenges ahead.
Undoubtedly, a series of measures to uplift the poor and bring them into the mainstream economy contributed significantly to the re-election of the party: electrification of hundreds of villages, cooking gas to millions of homes, banking accounts for millions of citizens, health insurance, sanitation, housing and digitisation. Right from the start in 2014, the personality of the Prime Minister and the quality of leadership he set the tone for heralding an era of commitment to hard work to boost the economy and further the development of the country in a spirit of strong patriotism.
When his team asked for a three-year period to cover the plan for banking connection to the poor, the PM answered: 2 years. The measure eradicated the mediation of middlemen, the corruption it entailed and handed benefit directly to beneficiaries. In a few years, the government achieved a big part of the Garibi Hatao policy announced in 1971 by Congress. Though the economic context is different, the project was kept limping along for decades. BJP smoothed out the ripples in the execution of welfare schemes. For decades, a policy of preferential treatment for minorities also had the adverse effect of keeping large minorities with several children in backwardness, dependence and poverty.
The relentless and firm battle against corruption has been a key factor in the pro-incumbent wave that kept the governmental team in power. It is the positive result of the India Against Corruption movement initiated by Ana Hazare with wide public support in the last years of Congress rule. Swamis scoured the country to raise political awareness on the scourge of corruption.
Swacch Bharat galvanized society at large with the symbolic participation of film stars to promote cleanliness and a healthier environment. The mass toilet scheme will take time to be totally effective since age-old habits do not change overnight. Lack of proper sewage connection is another impediment to effective use of toilets in rural areas. The job is still half-done.
In his second term of office, the government will set milestones for the full implementation of welfare schemes to eradicate poverty.
Modern infrastructure developed at a higher scale. Land and tax reforms have been undertaken; other bold reforms are in progress. However, demonetisation, the ban of three quarters of rupee notes looks like a big gamble that backfired, crippled the informal economy and led to job losses. The ‘Make in India’ plan has yielded mixed results so far. Economic growth has rested on domestic consumption; a shift to an export economy is on the way. There is encouragement to buy local products and reduce importation and the trade deficit mainly with China. For investments to start buzzing again, regulation and bureaucracy will certainly need a review to promote the ease of doing business and help the Prime Minister achieve a second milestone of a strong economy by the end of 2024.
Ultraliberalist policies may engender undesirable negative consequences. So far, the government has taken care to protect local agricultural products and food industry chains by not opening up to international food chains like Walmart and Carrefour. Current talks on privatisation of utilities to raise funds for other projects are quite risky. State-owned companies in China are said to give more leverage to the government in managing the economy.
The Modi magic
The choice of candidate is one factor explaining why the Congress fared so badly; the charisma of sister Priyanka did not withstand the Modi magic. An electoral campaign harping on the personality of the Prime Minister was counter-productive. The chor allegation did not ring well with the public given the reputation of ‘looty government’ that Congress was labelled as in its last term of office.
The victory of Pragya Thakur against seasoned politician Digvijay Singh captured the mind and burst the myth of ‘Hindu terror’ peddled by a few and accepted as truth in some circles. This time, the leftist press in India did not call their comrades in France to rescue democracy in India. The Frenchie press and spokespersons are in dire need of help in their own country.
Above all, it is the personality of Sri Narendra Modi that propelled the party to power. Indians identify with him. The swelling Modi wave surfed on his sense of patriotism and profound commitment to strengthen and develop India on all fronts. Man ki baat is a regular address of the PM to the young people of the country, and helps connect the younger generation to the general policy of the government.
The same diatribe parroted against him by media spokespersons, a few intellectuals and the leftist secular brigade in the West, and in small countries had, apparently, no take on voters in India. Criticism levelled by English-language private media outlets, both television and the press, and critics like Arundhati Roy were brushed aside. It was all seen as an unfair obsessional attack on an honest hardworking statesman.
Though some leftists have sincerely denounced the exploitation of workers for decades, their overall perception tainted by a one-sided view of secularism alienates the public from them. They keep hammering on the Gujarat riots in 2002 during the Prime Minister’s tenure as chief minister while taking care to omit the cause itself, which was the terrorist attack on a train carrying pilgrims, and the Congress government’s refusal to send troops to the state.
As to opponents in the press and intellectuals among the crowd of converts, including leftist hardliners in Mauritius who suddenly meet Jesus in their 50s, their comments are glaringly biased. The names in international press with eye-catching titles to degrade the Indian PM speak volumes of their origins and the reason for the publicity given to their views in mainstream English-language magazines.
Furthermore, the murder of BJP workers in Kerala, Bengal and Kashmir in the past years reinforced public support for BJP.
The definition of nationhood on BJP’s terms is a unifying element in the Indian public. And it is no small matter. It is the basis of solidarity, motivation and willingness to propel the country to a higher level. Already in 2014, a survey in American universities showed that American and Indian students were top on the list of those who wished for a strong leadership in their countries.
A heavy load of expectations rests on the shoulders of the governing party. A key factor is to stick to the principle of no corruption, hard work and high security level for citizens. The BJP should take care not to promote dynastic politics in the states so as to avoid the fate of the Congress.
Bold and tough reforms are on the way. The ‘Make in India’ programme is waiting for better days. Welfare schemes are unfinished jobs despite advances. The country is the sixth economy in the world and predicted to move higher up. For a strong and prosperous India to consolidate its position, Acche Din promises with upward economic mobility and inclusive growth set huge challenges ahead for the government.
* Published in print edition on 31 May 2019