Narendra Modi has learnt that the government must always keep a close ear to the ground so as to be continuously alert to the people’s reaction to government policies, actions and its governance
This week on May 26 marked one year since Narendra Modi came to power.
There has obviously been a reality check carried out by the media, the opposition parties with their own spin given to the event, the common man, the economic pundits, research centres across the world, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself and basically almost everyone who is an India watcher.
The fact that the IMF stated last month that India with a projected growth rate of 7.5 % in both 2015 and 2016 will overtake China, forecast to have a growth rate of 6.8 % in 2015 and 6.3% in 2016, as the fastest growing emerging economy in 2015-16 brings added significance to this exercise. The first benchmark Modi’s record is being assessed against is the much hyped Modi election campaign slogan which led to the crushing victory at the May 2014 polls that Achhe Din aane waale hain (Good days are coming).
Had Modinomics delivered on the promises made? The obvious rhetorical and burning question now is how long will it take for Achhe Din to come.
It is generally recognised that the first year of Narendra Modi’s government has been generally positive. Market sentiment has been upbeat with the Sensex Stock exchange index rising by 11.4% in the year, the repo rate being cut thus reducing the cost of borrowings and business confidence rising. Inflation which was causing tremendous hardships to the people and in particular the poor has been brought under control.
It is also clear that Narendra Modi has shown decisive leadership and introduced best practice in public governance through, for example, transparent auctions in contrast to the indecisiveness and corruption which plagued and undermined the Congress-led UPA government. A stringent law has been voted and firm steps have been taken against black money hoarded abroad to generate international consensus on the issue.
A host of game changing initiatives such as ‘Make in India’, Swaatch Bharat to make India a cleaner and greener place, the opening of a bank account for every citizen, Girl child education, Clean Ganga to clean and revive the Ganges, Skilled India or Digital India have been taken. Cogent steps have also been taken to make it easier to do business.
There is a push towards manufacturing, smart cities, industrial clusters, Digital India and the opening of the insurance sector and defence production to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) aimed at creating jobs and generating higher growth. In order to attract FDI in his game changing ‘Make in India’ project, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has travelled extensively to most of the world’s major economies such as Japan, US, Australia, France, Germany, Canada, China and South Korea during the past year to market the project among industrialists and CEOs of these countries.
However, Rome was not built in one day. These laudable initiatives are very much work in progress requiring additional reforms to improve and facilitate the conditions of doing business.
The objective findings from the diverse assessments are that there has been in this first year a massive turnaround in India’s macro economic situation, a fair amount of structural reforms, a seminal institutional change to better empower the States towards economic federalism as equal partners in promoting national development.
However, the slow progress in the creation of jobs and the modest scale of investments made by both the private and public sectors have been disappointing, in particular for those having higher expectations. Exports, consumption and falling rural income compounded by last year’s bad monsoon which was India’s worst in five years were also major worries.
It is noteworthy that on the occasion of the completion of his first year in office, Narendra Modi wrote an open letter to his countrymen spelling out his own assessment of his first year in office. He also posted the achievements of his government, complete with facts, figures and statistics on an interactive page on his personal website. It extols the realisations of the government in a host of areas such as the growth in electricity generation, the kilometres of roads and highways built when compared to the previous UPA government or the foreign policy initiatives taken in respect of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) or the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), etc. Can we expect such a transparent and factual factsheet of its performance every year from the government in Mauritius as part of our democratic norms?
Wake up call for Kumbhkaran
Like Kumbhkaran in the Ramayana, India is a sleeping giant. The necessary conditions to unleash the full potential of India rising are known and well documented. The priority remains the urgent ironing out of major bottlenecks such as assuring energy and power supply on a 24*7 basis and connecting the country with rapid transit road and rail infrastructure as well as investing in modern port hubs. The controversial land acquisition bill which is bogged down in the Lok Sabha is of key importance to private sector investments, the implementation of the ‘Make in India’ policy and FDI flows in vital sectors of energy, rapid transport infrastructure, defence, building homes for the homeless or strategic manufacture. It is mired by accusations of the opposition that it is anti farmer and pro industry in spite of assurances given by Narendra Modi that the government would do nothing to upset farmers.
There is also a need for sustained investments and improvements in health and education. It is therefore essential that democratic India finds through proper consultations with all the stakeholders a right balance when arbitrating between farmers’ land rights, environmental considerations and the conditions of land acquisition, devoid of demagogical rhetoric in order not to throttle much needed investments to generate growth, employment and assure the modernisation and substantive transformation of India.
On the political front, the year was a mixed bag. In spite of victories in States’ elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir in 2014, the Modi effect wore out in February 2015 with a crushing defeat against the Aam Admi Party in the Delhi elections.
Going forward, the essential conditions to enable the economy to leapfrog to higher levels of prosperity will be robust growth fuelled by substantial public and private investments and FDI in inter alia infrastructure, rapid transport systems, energy and defence equipment manufacture and the ‘Make in India’ project as well as reforms to facilitate the conditions of doing business. It is equally important that reform policies benefit all economic actors including SMEs operating in the diverse sectors of the economy so as to create a level playing field in terms of opportunities open to all stakeholders to unleash quantum growth. India is well known for its dynamic and innovative entrepreneurial class.
Implementation rigour to ensure delivery of the diverse policies and initiatives will be a determinant and essential factor. Attention must also be given to ways of shoring rural income through various support measures such as minimum support price, crop insurance, appropriate storage and marketing facilities against a background of monsoon related farmer distress and suicides.
There are in India and in the Indian diaspora across the world high expectations that the emergence of India as a giant among world economies will happen soon as Narendra Modi has the leadership drive and stature to overcome the many obstacles that need to be ironed out and deliver on this long awaited promise and fulfil the pledge of Achhe Din.
Guarding the nation’s democratic ethos
In his first year in office, Narendra Modi has learnt that the government must always keep a close ear to the ground so as to be continuously alert to the people’s reaction to government policies, actions and its governance. This allows government to take the necessary corrective actions forthwith. This will certainly happen, for example, in respect of the contested land acquisition bill as in a robust democracy the people remain the final arbiter and supreme judge of government policies and governance. Wise governance by government also means recognising its mistakes and changing tack to foster consensus to avoid any risk of a backlash. The style and manner of governance devoid of heavy-handedness is as important as delivering on promises made.
Similarly, in Mauritius, the multitude, who, as unerring guardians of our democratic ethos, voted the government to power last December as well as the nation should as part of a stock taking exercise ask themselves the following topical questions:
– Are they satisfied with government’s actions, policies and standards of good governance?
– Is the government getting its priorities right?
– Are the pressing issues of growth and high unemployment among the young or widening inequality among its priorities and are these being urgently addressed?
– Are the people at ease with the manner and seeming highhandedness towards the array of people brought to book and facing justice in the various scams and scandals uncovered in the country?
– Is it not time for unholy Inquisitions to give way to the real priorities of the nation and to the strict rule of Law?
Our vibrant democracy demands that this is so forthwith.
* Published in print edition on 29 May 2015