The euphoria over getting an overwhelming voter mandate must not cloud the Modi government’s thinking on its unfinished agenda. Yes, the Opposition was virtually decimated in the Lok Sabha polls. But today’s voter is perpetually on the watch and any show of arrogance of power is squarely rebuffed.
Amid all the positives at hand, there is no mistaking the fact that there are two crucial areas of non-fulfilment which need to be tackled post haste.
There is the need to re-energise the economy which has been sluggish for quite a while though there is nothing like the recession that some countries are facing or are slipping into. The growth rate is a cause of worry and demand is not picking up. Exports continue to be sluggish and unemployment is rampant. But while some of these are transient and are fuelled by international factors over which we have no control, the economy needs to be handled better.
At the same time there is the scourge of environmental pollution which plagues the country, especially the bigger cities, as the governments at the Centre and in states live for the moment with scarcely a thought for the coming generations. Industrial production is stagnating, new investment is hardly coming in and there is a sense of gloom on the employment front. Some of these slowdown features are there to varying degrees in many other countries too but with an Opposition that has been rendered ineffective and a people who are largely apathetic there is little to cheer.
There is an air of complacency that is none too comforting for a country that still has miles to go. While inflation was an issue in the elections as it naturally should be, there was no thinking or action on environmental pollution, no acute consciousness of the disastrous consequences of overuse of the environment.
The pointers were that though the Indian electorate has matured over the years, there is still lack of understanding of bread and butter issues and environmental factors. Politicians of all hues thrive on raking up petty issues and stir up public sentiments on what should normally be regarded as non-issues. We continue to be languishing at the lower end of welfare economic indicators, though the huge population is a contributing factor. Though a growth rate of 5 per cent or above is the envy of many nations in the context of the prevailing conditions, there is so much whipped up disappointment over the declining growth rate that it looks gloomy. Some measures have been taken by the Modi government and some others are on the anvil but the recovery could still take time.
It is just as well that India has drawn away from the regional trade pact under the Regional Comprehensive Economic Participation (RCEP) at the recent Bangkok meeting of Asean and of economic bigwigs like Japan, China, South Korea because New Delhi had a USD 105 billion deficit with RCEP countries in 2018-19 which could worsen if these
countries are allowed the benefit of free trade. Indian small scale industry has suffered grievously due to unfair competition from Chinese manufacturers who revel in under-cutting to drive local producers to the wall. Thousands have been driven out of work and India can ill afford more workers losing jobs due to Chinese competition. While the fall in export growth is attributable to slowdown in many countries India needs to come out of this quagmire sooner than later.
The other area of concern for India is in regard to pollution and failure to protect the environment. After years of steady deterioration in the air quality in Delhi and its environs and a host of other cities in UP, Haryana and Bihar, some measures are on the anvil now which, if sustained, could bring succour to those facing dark times due to environmental factors.
It is sad indeed that in election after election, protecting the environment is not looked upon as an election issue. Parties are not called to account for the man-made factors which contribute to growing pollution in air, water and through other sources. In the absence of public outcry over such damage to the environment through industrial effluents, indiscriminate deforestation and vehicular emission of toxic gases, there is no pressure on governments to act on such a vital area of public health and well-being. That climate change, caused largely by rape of the environment, is playing havoc with the weather pattern is a hard reality that we are neglecting. We are indeed bequeathing to the future generations a frightful legacy. A recent study indicated that the life expectancy of people living in the national capital can be deemed to have been compromised by seven years due to environmental conditions. The recurrence of floods in some parts of the country and droughts in some others are pointers to the havoc that ecological damage is doing to the environment.
While the Modi government has some areas of excellence, posterity will judge it also by what this generation bequeaths to the future generation. There cannot be any compromise on maintaining the ecological balance as much as it is essential that inflation is kept under check.
The writer is a political commentator and columnist.
He has authored four books.