The lib­er­als will whine but what do the faith­ful make of the Modi era?

The Times of India (Mumbai edition) - - ALL THAT MATTERS - AAKAR PA­TEL

As the term of this gov­ern­ment winds down, I won­der what his sup­port­ers make of the Prime Min­is­ter’s per­for­mance. Now I don’t mean tra­di­tional vot­ers of his party, who back it for rea­sons of Hin­dutva or caste or what­ever other rea­son. Most of those will con­tinue to sub­scribe to it as we will find out in the by-elec­tions com­ing up in the Hindi belt.

I mean those who ex­pected per­for­mance from him of an or­der of mag­ni­tude dif­fer­ent from what we have had in the past. The think­ing vot­ers who read com­pe­tence into the words ut­tered by him on var­i­ous things. Again, I do not re­fer to those who will jux­ta­pose him with the Congress, and say “yes, but Congress is dy­nas­tic, cor­rupt, and had 60 years of fail­ure etc.” Ac­cepted. We’re not talk­ing about the past here. We’re ex­am­in­ing the per­for­mance of this Cab­i­net from the per­spec­tive of some­one who re­posed faith in the slo­gans promis­ing good gov­er­nance and great change.

Many such in­di­vid­u­als were of­fended by what they con­cluded was the pusil­la­nim­ity of the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment. To such peo­ple, the thing that this gov­ern­ment pre­sented as its out­stand­ing achieve­ment is the Sur­gi­cal Strike. So what ex­actly did it achieve? Ter­ror­ist fa­tal­i­ties in the three years be­fore 2014 in Jammu and Kash­mir were 183 in 2011, 117 in 2012 and 181 in 2013. The fa­tal­i­ties have been drop­ping con­sis­tently since 2001, the most vi­o­lent year in which 4,507 peo­ple were killed, in a broad trend. Un­der this gov­ern­ment, fa­tal­i­ties have been 193 in 2014, 174 in 2015, 267 in 2016 (the year of the Sur­gi­cal Strike) and 358 in 2017. The num­ber this year so far has been 339 and it will likely be the most vi­o­lent since 2010. The elected gov­ern­ment has been booted out and Kash­miris are be­ing ruled from Delhi again. It is hard to con­clude that we are man­ag­ing this prop­erly and pro­ceed­ing from a strat­egy.

In what we call Maoist ex­trem­ism, the num­ber killed this year is 345 so far and last year was 333, the year be­fore that 433 and in 2014 it was 314. Here also, a long-term trend of steep de­cline in vi­o­lence has paused. I will leave it to the reader to as­sess what all this in­di­cates.

On for­eign pol­icy, it will not be easy to get a sin­gle ex­pert, even from in­side the gov­ern­ment­backed think tanks, to con­clude that our strate­gic po­si­tion has im­proved in the last four years. Ob­serve our neigh­bour­hood. From Sri Lanka to Mal­dives to Nepal to Bangladesh to Pak­istan and even Bhutan, our in­flu­ence has slipped or been chal­lenged. It is the re­al­ity that this slip­page has come be­cause of the rise of China and its de­sire to project its power. A third Chi­nese port is com­ing up in Myan­mar, af­ter Ham­ban­tota in Lanka and Gwadar in Pak­istan. We face Chi­nese pres­ence to our im­me­di­ate east, west and south. Any gov­ern­ment would have faced this pres­sure, true. But what did this one ac­tu­ally do and achieve?

Mov­ing on, enough has been writ­ten about the eco­nomic per­for­mance of this gov­ern­ment com- pared to the pre­vi­ous one. We need not dwell on the fact that In­dia’s GDP growth is lower un­der Naren­dra Modi than it was un­der Man­mo­han Singh, but it would be in­struc­tive to ask why. Re­cent re­portage of de­mon­eti­sa­tion — there was no cel­e­bra­tion of it this year by the gov­ern­ment as there was last year — has shown that cash’s share in money sup­ply is back to where it was. So “less cash” has been de­feated. The other stated rea­sons for de­mon­eti­sa­tion were to hit ter­ror­ism (see the data above), to make a dent in black money (99% of it came back and was laun­dered) and to check coun­ter­feit money.

We are left with one pos­i­tive ar­gu­ment: that it will lead to ‘for­mal­i­sa­tion of the econ­omy’. The party in power does not like the Semitic faiths. But like them, its promised re­wards are all dis­tant, in some imag­i­nary heaven, while the dam­age is up­front.

What else should we con­sider? In­sti­tu­tion build­ing and strength­en­ing. Here we can look at what is hap­pen­ing with the Re­serve Bank of In­dia and the Cen­tral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion. And what do Modi sup­port­ers make of NITI Aayog? I con­fess I do not fully un­der­stand what it does and what it is in­tended to do. The Plan­ning Com­mis­sion is gone. The hope is that some think­ing went into its re­place­ment and it will not fade away into ir­rel­e­vance as it ap­pears to be do­ing.

This then is what the broad pic­ture looks like. Can it look very dif­fer­ent from the per­spec­tive of the sup­porter? If so, is that dif­fer­ence aris­ing from a dif­fer­ent set of facts or dif­fer­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tion of facts?

This is an ex­er­cise to un­der­stand the PM’s ap­peal as the cur­tain be­gins to fall on his per­for­mance. The lib­er­als will whine any­way, whether it is his gov­ern­ment or any other’s, about Kash­mir, about NREGA, about the op­pres­sion of dal­its, Mus­lims and adi­va­sis. This isn’t about them but the other side. What do the faith­ful make of the 2014-2019 era?

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