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23 May, 2017

Modi’s three-year balance sheet

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi completes his third year in office on Friday, going by official statistics, the economy is doing well and the stock market is at an all-time high.

Preparations to publicise the government’s achievements began last month with Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu writing to each ministerial colleagues to furnish data about five major achievements of his or her department to be included in a booklet to be published this week.

Earlier Naidu had asked ministers and top Bharatiya Janata Party leaders to communicate to the people the positive changes brought about by the Modi government. Be ready with facts and figures to propagate the government’s achievements in a big way, he told them.

Three party men with experience in mainstream journalism were assigned specific tasks. Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar was asked to prepare a note on the outcome of Modi’s foreign tours. Swapan Dasgupta and Chandan Mitra, both nominated members of the Rajya Sabha, were urged to collect material to counter criticism of the government on such grounds as poor record in employment generation and threats to freedom of expression.

Typical of the claims resulting from the planned publicity drive is Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitaraman’s assertion that the government took about 7,000 measures – big, small, medium and nano – to promote ease of doing business. She said the measures included fixing timeline for clearance of applications, de-licensing manufacture of many defence products and introducing e-biz project.

The changing global scenario had made India an attractive destination for foreign investors even before Modi came on the scene. He went all out to create an investor-friendly atmosphere and can claim credit for the rise of foreign direct investment to a record level. But India still hovers around the 130th place among 190 countries in the World Bank’s 2017 Ease of Doing Business report.

The other issues proposed to he highlighted include control of inflation, reduction in corruption and initiatives in areas such as road building, rural electrification and cooking gas distribution which, the government believes, have helped improve the quality of life of people. But critics have raised questions about some of the claims.

In an open letter to Modi, Sadhavi Khosla, a social activist, who identified herself as one among the 31 per cent who had voted for the BJP believing in his promise of achhe din (good days), pointed out that food inflation remains unchecked.

Experts have voiced doubts about the methods employed by the government to project an optimistic picture of the economy. Some of them have accused it of fudging figures and tinkering with the methodology of calculating the gross domestic product and the inflation rate.

Six months after Modi demonetised high-value currency notes, the government and the central bank are unable or unwilling to state clearly the motives behind the step and the actual achievements. Claims that demonetisation put an end to cross-border terrorism and unrest in Kashmir valley stand exposed as hogwash.

Detractors have dug out Modi’s old tweets and video clips of his campaign speeches to prove he has not lived up to his promises. But there is nothing to indicate that his personal popularity has been dented. At the moment no opposition party, including the Congress, has a leader who can be an effective foil to him.

But the Hindutva brigade on whose shoulders Modi rode to victory is turning out to be a liability. With hard-core Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) leaders in power in states like Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, the rank and file felt emboldened to take the law into their hands and let loose a reign of terror on minorities and Dalits raising specious issues. At least 15 persons have been lynched in the name of cow protection or meat eating.

There are signs of a backlash, which Modi cannot afford to ignore. Dalits from different states converged on Delhi last week to protest against the atrocities on the members of the community at Saharanpur in UP. There are also threats of mass conversion to Islam.

A section of Modi’s supporters who style themselves as the ‘liberal right’ are peeved that he is unable to get the BJP governments in the states to rein in the fringe elements. If he is not able to retain the loyalty of this section, he may lose his image as a Man of Development and stand exposed as the chief of rustic elements who want to drag the country back to the feudal past. 

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