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19 May, 2015

Modi’s record is good in parts

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi completes one year in office, opinion on his performance is sharply divided. Fans affirm he has redeemed India but opponents say he is ruining the country. Then there are observers who wonder whether there has been a change of administration at all.

Modi, like Muhammad Ali, believes he is the greatest. So do his loyal followers. According to BS Yeddyurappa, Vice-President of his Bharatiya Janata Party, Modi is running a clean, efficient pro-people government. For the first time in many years there is a government that is scam-free, he says.

Yeddyurappa ran a corrupt administration in Karnataka and does not have the right credentials to issue a certificate of integrity. There are other reasons too for not taking his statement at face value.

Scams generally surface years late, when reports of the Comptroller and Auditor-General become available. The cases instituted against some members of Manmohan Singh’s second government were based on what they did as members of his first government. Modi’s acceptance of a custom-made suit, reportedly worth Rs1 million, from a businessman and the windfall gains his corporate financiers are making cast doubts on Yeddyurappa’s claim.

Political opponents who were alarmed by Modi’s emergence on the national scene in view of the Hindutva-engineered riots in Gujarat under his watch cite the rabid outbursts of some BJP MPs and the attacks on churches and reconversion campaigns in some states as evidence of the regime’s communal agenda. However, there is reason to believe he is trying to restrain the hotheads, though belatedly, since their activities are giving his government a bad name at home and abroad.

Modi is on the verge of setting a globe-trotting record with visits to 18 countries in 12 months. The travels were planned with the twin objectives of improving bilateral and multilateral relations and securing investments to make India a manufacturing hub. They have provoked the good-humoured comment that he is the first Non-Resident Indian prime minister.

The Make-in-India programme is Modi’s main employment generation scheme. Several countries, including China and the United States, have evinced interest in it. Since big projects necessarily take time to materialise, it is too early to decide how successful the programme is.

Meanwhile, Modi has some hurdles to cross at home. Several measures he has initiated to ease the way for domestic and foreign investors – these include relaxation in laws relating to land acquisition and employment of children – have met with opposition.

In his election speeches, Modi had accused the previous governments of wasting nearly six decades. He is now reassessing the past more realistically. Last week, at Shanghai, he spoke of a backlog of only three decades when he took over. That means he has exonerated all prime ministers up to PV Narasimha Rao, including his bete noire, the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

Manmohan Singh, who headed the two United Progressive Alliance governments, is still on Modi’s list of defaulters, but observers are finding it difficult to differentiate between the economic policies of the two. Much of the economic legislation Modi has pushed through Parliament so far, such as the insurance, coal and general sales tax bills, are measures initiated by Manmohan Singh. As one scribe puts it, “Modi has achieved the impossible: he has given us another year of UPA.”

However, Modi has reason to be happy. The global downturn had slowed down economic growth during Manmohan Singh’s second term. With the US and other major countries on the path of recovery, the pace is picking up again, and the International Monetary Fund has forecast that India will register an expansion of 7.2 per cent, outstripping China’s 6.8 per cent.

Indian and foreign business interests are hopeful that Modi will be able to keep his promise and make changes of the kind they wish to see. The Associated Chamber of Commerce gives him only seven marks out of 10. But the global consultancy firm PwC’s 2015 survey says Indian CEOs are the most optimistic in the world.

Modi has not been able to infuse the same degree of optimism in the poor who constitute one-fourth of India’s population. Economic distress continues to drive peasants to suicide. Sensing trouble on this front, the BJP has drawn up a campaign plan designed to give him a pro-poor image.

Modi’s progress card for the year, like the curate’s egg, is good in parts. Opinion polls indicate that his personal popularity is still high. He will face a field test when some states go to the polls later this year. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 19, 2015.

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