The Lost Pragmatist

Wednesday, July 15, 2015 Politics

A comprehensive review of Modi as a person.

It’s been a year since the BJP assumed power at the Centre with Narendra Damordas Modi at the helm. Their electoral grand slam, realized through tall expectations and promises, dealt a crippling blow to the Congress that was already floundering under inept leadership. Modi, who led the BJP battalion, was portrayed as the pragmatic pro-industrialist who would free the country from the icy grips of corruption and inflation. His arrival on the national arena sent reverberations throughout India Inc. with stock prices surging upwards; a berserk media called it the ‘dawn of a new era’; the whole country waited anxiously for the much touted ‘Gujarat Model’ to descend upon them. But after one year with Mr. Modi at the coveted post, it seems as if the glitz and awe of “NaMo” is finally fading.

The BJP’s march up to the 2014 elections was both strategic and incisive. There were no wasted movements. Everything was delivered to perfection and with finesse. Modi’s preparations ranged from ‘foot soldiers’ toiling hard day-in and day-out, to a personal “cyber cell” handling online marketing through social media. Modi’s loyal followers projected him as the savior India was longing for. They wisely responded to the populace’s need for change by putting Modi – ‘an able administrator’, as the face of the BJP and hence the NDA. Their tactics were brilliant!! They might as well have been selling a product, one where India sat atop the world. But people bought into that vision and gave the BJP their biggest ever electoral victory. Modi – the salesman, as put by Dr. Manmohan Singh, was enormously successful. Even though a year is too short a span to judge any government, yet let’s try and discern what the BJP has accomplished so far and see if it tells us anything about the essence of the man hailed as India’s ‘Messiah’.

As our new PM, Modi has managed to impress everyone with his foreign policies and domestic schemes like the Jan-Dhan Yojna among various others. His most notable accomplishment among international policies is his ‘friendship’ with Obama, which he hopes will keep China at bay. The historic land boundary agreement with Bangladesh along with his timely assistance to quake-hit Nepal before anyone else is well worthy of praise. In no time at all, Modi has risen to the status of a world leader, travelling around the world and forging new alliances. He was merrily welcomed everywhere and heartily accorded the status of a rock star. The tea seller has indeed sprouted wings!!

In the past one year, the PMO has announced various schemes and campaigns. The Swachh Bharat abhiyaan campaign, if reports are to be believed has built over 7 lakh toilets in the country in January alone. But the real success was when the World Bank announced $1 billion to be invested in the campaign to clean up the states. The ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padao’ campaign is another social welfare project aimed at improving the child sex ratio across the country. The ‘Sukanya Samridhi Yojna’ under which girl children who are below 10 years will have bank accounts with interest and income tax benefits is yet another mile stone. Another sizeable achievement is the Defense ministry’s consent to defense projects worth Rs. 80,000 crore. This was necessary as our arsenal was outdated and in dire need of new equipment. The move also approved the development of 6 indigenous submarines. However, these campaigns and Bills haven’t been sufficient enough to impress the voters. In fact he’s still selling his vision of India (with high decibel rhetoric as in his electioneering days), while the promised “Ache Din” is nowhere in sight.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi still gives speeches about development and corruption free administration both in India and abroad and never misses an opportunity to take potshots at the previous UPA government. The fierceness with which he maligns the Congress regime would almost lead one to think that he has not yet switched from his election campaign mode. While he is blaming the UPA for everything that’s not right in India, he’s ignoring the more important things that he should be devoting himself to. As a result, markets have come down and entrepreneurs are left wondering if Modi wasn’t the man they had hoped him to be.

Modi has visited 18 countries in the past one year where he has given speeches about how bad India was during the UPA regime and how good it ‘will’ be under him. He made a fool of himself when he gave a speech about how Indians were ‘ashamed’ of being called Indian during the UPA regime but now that he’s come to power, they’re proud to be called so. Honestly, we feel ashamed of our Prime Minister’s remarks, and not because of being Indian during the UPA rule. He has sent open invitations to foreign companies and businessmen to invest in India by promising to reduce the red tape. But in reality, Modi has done nothing to make it easier for companies to invest in India. His rhetoric certainly doesn’t justify him nor do the hesitant investors who are still wary of putting their money in Modi’s hands. The only good that’s come out of his foreign visits is that he has been able to strengthen India’s standing among other countries. But that may not hold for long if he can’t walk the talk.

Over centralization of administration hasn’t worked out well either as files are paralyzed at the PM’s office. What Modi is trying to do is implement the ‘Gujarat Model’ of administration at the Centre. This was evident when a number of officers were transferred from the Gujarat State Government to the Central Secretariat during his first month at the PMO. Modi may have been able to control Gujarat the way he wanted by centralizing the administration, but that’s not going to work with a country as diverse as India.

There is a huge gap between Modi’s promises before the election and his performances in the last one year. His rhetoric on ‘ease of doing business’ or ‘Make in India’ campaign rarely addresses the problems faced in the agrarian and industrial sectors. Modi’s vision for development involves big industries creating ample job opportunities for youth and contributing to National Income. But that hardly coincides with the interest of the farmers or the middle class. This became awfully clear when the government introduced the controversial Land Acquisition Bill in the Lok Sabha. Of course, it met with stiff opposition from the UPA and other parties, and can never be passed in the Upper house as long as Congress has the numbers there. But the rush shown by the government to pass the Bill by bypassing the Rajya Sabha is worrisome. If the Land Acquisition Bill comes to force, then the poor farmers in the country will have no power over their land as it can be forcefully seized in the name of development. While Modi has spent most of the days of his first year as PM touring different nations, he never found the time time to visit a drought hit village or grant enough subsidies for the fertilizers thus providing Rahul Gandhi with enough fodder to keep up a sustained attack on the BJP. Undoubtedly, Narendra Modi’s pro-industrialist image is giving way to an anti-farmer image. The middle class doesn’t seem to be in Modi’s agenda either, as he has turned a blind eye towards them even when the corporate tax was lowered by 5%. The sad truth is that the condition of the country and its people are no different from the ‘pre-Modi era’. The Prime Minister’s conduct and high intensity speeches only provide an impression of a person who is caught in his own hype and popularity, dying to etch his name in history, hardly the qualities of a good leader.

On the social front, communal remarks by the Sangh Parivar, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the RSS have fostered a sense of insecurity among the minorities. Hardly surprising when the man in charge is an RSS activist. Also, having 282 seats in the Lok Sabha doesn’t hurt when you want to push your religious agenda in the name of the nation’s welfare. The ban on beef in several states was a result of this arrogance and religious intolerance, which does pose an interesting question – Is India still a secular nation under the BJP? Considering communal remarks by Sakshi Shivanand or Pravin Togadia among various others and Modi’s silence over these issues grants a certain degree of relevance to that question. Tracing stem cell research, motor cars, airplanes and many other modern scientific inventions all the way back to the Vedas, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana is certainly laughable. It seems as if our new government is either unable or unwilling to differentiate between fact and fiction.

The environmental sector has also witnessed the crassness of the Modi government displayed in their eagerness to provide clearances for the projects in the forest areas. The ban on fishing for 61 days instead of the state-imposed 47 days is another clear example of how the Centre is insensitive to the woes of the common man. While one can argue that the ban is in the context of environmental protection, how can one justify the green signal given to the multi-national corporates who engage in fishing in Indian waters during the period of the ban?

Modi is indeed a pragmatist whose only purpose is to win just as he proved by winning the election. But as Prime Minister, his high voltage rhetoric only projects a self-centered man who is desperate to leave a mark on history. His expensive suits and catchy slogans all flaunt style but little substance. The tea has gone cold for Mr. Modi and if he does not pick up the pieces soon, there may not be a return to power in 2019.