Narendra Modi govt has failed India in its hour of need both economy and peopleby OPINIONEXPRESS.IN June 9, 2020 0 comments
It has been a roller-coaster first year for NDA 2.0. While it has no dearths of supporters for its radical moves, here comes a counter view…
As we enter the completion of the first year of NDA 2.0 of Narendra Modi government’s tenure, it is becoming increasingly apparent that a historic opportunity has been squandered. The Modi government – which was doubly blessed by a historic mandate from the people and three years of low oil prices, had an opportunity to enact widespread reform. Instead this became a government with questionable priorities and a lack of any legislative clarity.
The successes of the Modi government are debatable. However, there were ten critical mistakes that will without a doubt, define the Modi government.
1. Demonetisation & GST
This would be at the top of any list for its sheer lack of success and the widespread havoc that it inflicted on the economy. While being taught now as a cautionary tale in business schools over- seas, it enjoys the unique distinction of having failed on every one of its stated objectives (combating terror funding, fake notes and black money) while having wiped out jobs. Studies by noted economist Arun Kumar and the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy continue to illustrate that we are not out of the woods yet. Another stock was pushed in the economy by the faulty implementation of GST wherein the IT infrastructure was never ready to accommodate mammoth transactions trail to be generated in a large size economy like India. The cost of doing business was in- creased for the small vendors since the automation needed expert inputs hence the requirement of qualified accountant with respective business has increased the cost of operations. The brilliant idea was turned in a nightmare for millions of businesses in India.
2. The great farmer’s unrest
Farmer suicides rose sharply during the Modi government’s tenure. In its final budget, the BJP on the demand of minimum support price plus 50%, gave a version that satisfied no one. In parallel, the Modi government import- ed wheat and pulses without thought – leading to the prices of domestic produce crashing. Add to this – the ill- advised venture to amend the land acquisition Act of 2013; to forcibly acquire the land of farmers.
They have marched and held large scale agitations thrice this year. They have brought the mortal remains of their brethren, who committed suicide, to shock this government into action. The children of those farmers who took their own lives held peaceful protests barely a kilometer away from parliament. Not a single representative from the BJP Government deigned to meet with any of them or even acknowledge their presence.
3. Rewriting of the Rafale deal
The prime minister and his cohorts changed the terms of a deal to acquire fewer jets for three times the price with- out following the stipulated procurement procedure. When cornered with questions, the government chose to attack the opposition and cite rules of privacy which were contradicted by the French president in an interview to an Indian channel. The Rafale controversy attracts questions also because of the selection of a private party as an offset partner – one who lacked any qualifications in this regard, except for an obvious proximity to the Prime Minister. Although the government got breather from the supreme court but the selection of the private partner with several controversies will be debated in the public domain for long.
4. Overpowering independence of Media
There has been an enslavement of certain sections of the media which simply choke on any criticism no matter how innocuous of the prime minister and the BJP president. If a channel is less than pliant, it is blacked out for 24 hours, its premises are raided, or the offending journalists are mysteriously made to go on sabbatical or removed outright. Today the government has several mouth pieces shouting 24X7 for anything in the name of nationalism and ignoring their duty to criticize government, if they are wrong but the tread has reversed wherein the media is justifying the wrongs via media platform to change the narrative of every issue.
5. Weakening of institutions
The parliament is an inconvenience to this government which prefers to rule by fiat and ordinances. The prime minister rarely attends parliament, and when he does it is more to give electoral speeches than to lay out a legislative agenda or answer questions raised on the floor of the House. The promised Lokpal is so artfully forgotten that an irate Supreme Court has to direct action. An audacious chief minister promptly upon assuming office with- draws all criminal cases against himself and no one blinks. Electoral transparency is promised while bringing in un- accounted funding through regressive and opaque electoral bonds. The CBI is in the throes of a battle for credibility. The list goes on.
6. Perhaps the biggest failure, the cultivation of hate
There has been a sharp increase in targeted attacks on Dalits and members of the minority community. What makes these attacks unique is the state endorsement to the attackers when ministers garland them or reverentially attend their funerals. The message of support is lost on no one. In fact, the only coherent thread running through this government’s term has been the other certain section of India. People who are blessed to be followed by the prime minster share only one other thing in common. They are defiantly communal and abusive. Almost as if they have official sanction.
7. The mishandling of kashmir
Abrogation of Article 370 and 35A, and converting state of J&K in two Union Territories can be seen as the agenda of BJP and implementation of muscular policy in internal security but the stake- holders of the state are left high and dry by this sudden move. This government deserves the credit of having alienated the Kashmiri people from the rest of India through a poorly thought out engagement policy. For the first time, since the 1996, by-elections could not be held in the district of Anantnag and had to be delayed because of the tense situation. Eight month long curfews destroyed the local economy. Worse still, there was a marked increase (72%) in the number of our soldiers martyred in just the first three years of the BJP’s term. The extremely inept handling of Kashmir deserves a study unto itself. India has isolated itself with the entire western democracies by pushing for aggressive plan in J&K.
8. A draconian Aadhaar and the failed attempt to deny citizens a fundamental right to privacy
For months this government argued in the Supreme Court against citizens having a fundamental right to privacy. It argued for surveillance and labelled privacy an ‘elitist concern’. In parallel it struggled to explain why it ordered the mandatory linking of Aadhaar to all possible services from railway tickets to school admissions. The Supreme Court ultimately had to step in and severely curtail the domineering designs of the project.
9. Erosion of India’s influence in Asia
A small island nation like Maldives feels confident in spurning India, Nepal has no compunctions about engaging with China as does Sri Lanka. Until five years ago, India enjoyed a pre-eminent position in the subcontinent with its voice sought on resolving matters within these countries. India has lost the faith of its timetested friends Russia and Malaysia while entire Middle East block is suspicious of India though the trade ties have balanced the bilateral relation- ships. It is clear that that influence has been eroded because of a foreign policy lacking any coherent objectives, except to promote the Prime Minister’s cult of personality.
When the government has to revise the methodology for calculating GDP to make its numbers appear artificially higher, when capital flight on an unprecedented scale takes place, when companies turn to external lenders to finance operations, you know the government has failed to create jobs. This is a dismal report card by any measure, but it is far from exhaustive. The sheer number of high-value defaulters who audaciously fled the country with public sector money, the almost cruel increases in oil and LPG prices, the lowering of the standard of political discourse etc.; these are just some of the several missteps this government will have to answer for.
The irony is that when the prime minister was campaigning in 2013, he promised to address these very issues. He has instead aggravated them to a point where it will take years to undo the damage. The prime minister likes to speak of legacy issues often. The truth is his legacy is going to be an issue of size- able concern for himself.
Three months into this unprecedented health and economic crisis, it is time to assess the Narendra Modi government’s lack of response to this disaster. Let us not be unfair to the government. India supported Prime Minister Modi when he first announced the lockdown, its preparation, timing and communication left much to be desired. The PM was decisive when a hard call had to be taken. Indecision or further delay could have landed us in a worse state than we are. In retrospect, we now know that our response was already delayed, but it would be unfair to indict the government on that basis. Global knowledge and awareness at that time did not warrant such a response. On balance, we reacted faster than most other countries.
It would also be unfair to blame the Modi government for all the mess that we face today. A largely unanticipated pandemic is bound to create havoc, even in the best of places. It is bound to be worse in a country like India, given the weak public health fundamentals and fragile response systems. An indictment of the Modi government must be careful about limiting itself to what could have been anticipated, what could have been achieved in our conditions. And it must leave room for genuine mistakes. Faced with a crisis of this kind, the best of leaders with the purest intentions will make erroneous calls. They must be criticised, but not indicted for bonafide errors of judgement. Sadly, even after making all these allowances, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Narendra Modi government has failed India in its hour of need. The government has been clueless about controlling the health crisis, incompetent in handling its economic consequence and insensitive in dealing with the humanitarian crisis.
Let us focus on the health crisis. We must not blame PM Modi for his early decisions in pandemic management. We cannot indict him for erring on the side of caution because he heard (as all global leaders did) conflicting forecast about the progress of the pandemic. But we must ask some questions nevertheless: why did the government not listen to alternative voices about more testing at an early stage? Why did the PM not try to learn from and replicate the Kerala model? Did he allow political envy to trump national interest? Why did he not come down heavily against his supporters trying to communal the pandemic? Once it became clear that the lockdown was not breaking the chain or flattening the curve, why did he persist with the lockdown as the sole remedy? Did he allow his ego and self-image to trump rational course correction? And finally, why is no senior functionary (not even a minister, let alone the head of the government, as is the norm in many countries) responding to the media’s response on the pandemic? What is the future strategy? Is there something that the government wishes to hide? All these questions do not admit of easy answers and leave the country with the impression of a government that is lost but does not know how to admit it or ask for help.
“An indictment of the Modi government must be careful about limiting itself to what could have been anticipated, what could have been achieved in our conditions. And it must leave room for genuine mistakes. Faced with a crisis of this kind, the best of leaders with the purest intentions will make erroneous calls. They must be criticised, but not indicted for bonafide errors of judgement.”
On the economic front, let us allow for the fiscal constraints that the government faces at this moment, even though it is largely responsible for this situation due to untimely waiver to corporates and inflation of revenue projections. Still, we must ask why has the Modi government not done anything to stimulate demand (despite pleas from every economist who matters)? Why the continuous pumping of liquidity despite the fact that banks have failed to use the extra liquidity made available in March? Why has the government not addressed what the industrialists, businessmen, farmers and labourers were actually asking for? Why has the government made no attempt to raise additional revenue (despite many sensible suggestion) to meet this crisis? Why use this crisis to push through a number of policy changes on labour law, agriculture, environment and investment on 22 June 2020 that have nothing to do with the cause or solution to the current crisis? And, why not share the real economic situation with the country? Why dress up the “packages”, that too in such amateurish ways, so as to somehow match the magical 20-LAKH crore figure?
These questions lead us to a sad answer: the economic response of the fifth-largest economy facing its worst re- cession and joblessness is being shaped by a bunch of too-clever-by-half economists and packaged by an ignorant and arrogant political leadership. More than saving the economy, the leaders are focused on saving themselves and their wealthy friends.
Finally, let’s turn to the Modi government’s handling of the humanitarian crisis made visible by the migrant workers who have taken to the streets. Again, let us grant that given our size and deep inequalities, some degree of distress was inevitable. But we must ask: Did the government even try to anticipate this distress and plan to alleviate it when announcing the lockdown? Why was the government surprised by the scale of the problem of the migrants.
Why were there no special arrangements for food and income of the stranded workers for the first 50 days of the lockdown? What else did the government expect jobless, food-less and hope- less workers to do, except walk back? Why do we not get a report of this kind from any other country in the world, even African countries much poorer than us? And once the government discovered, within the first week of the lockdown, the plight of the migrant workers, what did it do to address the crisis, except law and order advisories?
Why was the decision to start Shramik trains delayed so much and taken when it was actually riskier? The payment of the tickets was debated in national media everyday when jobless migrant labourers were struggling with zero money in the pocket to travel. Why the insistence on the fares for distress evacuation? Why did it take the Ministry of Home Affairs six weeks to issue a simple advisory about humanitarian support to the migrants on the road.
Insensitive would be too mild a word to characterise this shameful handling of the worst national-level humanitarian crisis. To call the Modi government heartless displays credulity. As India goes for a free fall, the top political functionaries are focused on political intrigue, blame-game and public relations. India’s worst health, economic and humanitarian crisis is being handled by undoubtedly the most callous and perhaps the most incompetent government.
(Inputs from the two most intelligent critics of the government namely Yogendra Yadav, Salmann Khurshid articles. The views express are personal opinion of the writers and it was published in Indian press)