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