As his government completes two years in office today (Thursday), Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a relaxed man.
And he has reasons to be so. Not that he has achieved something spectacular but his excellent political and media management has apparently lowered the hostile political temperature in New Delhi.
If much of 2014 and 2015 were lost in despair in the wake of the intolerance debate triggered by beef controversy, students’ unrest in varsities and various controversial and divisive comments made by BJP motor mouths besmirching the image of the Prime Minister, 2016 provides for hope.
After the initial drift his government appears to be getting its act together. The placid mood in Raisina Hills was captured in a theme song – Mera Desh Badal Raha, Agey Badh Raha Hai – released in Delhi early this week to commemorate the second anniversary of Modi government. The two-and-a-half minute video capsules various projects and schemes launched by the government.
After humiliating electoral defeats in Delhi and Bihar last year, the BJP wrested Assam from the Congress, its principal rival. And the win of two friendly regional parties – Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and ADMK in Tamil Nadu – is expected to help the government push key reform agenda, including the GST bill, in the Rajya Sabha, where it does not have majority.
Not only electoral victory, the government has done reasonably well on governance as well. While some steps have been taken to boost the economy, the PM can take pride in the many strides he made in foreign policy.
Signing of the historic India, Iran, Afghan Trade Corridor Pact on Monday to turn the Chabahar port into a transit hub bypassing Pakistan has been a big foreign policy hit. The India, Bangladesh border land agreement signed last year to simplify the 4000-km boundary and swap 200-odd human inhabited enclaves is another signal achievement.
On the political front, electoral victories in the two key border states of Jammu and Kashmir and Assam have been an icing on the cake.
The government has succeeded in streamlining key ministries like power, the railways, road transport and petroleum though performance of many other ministries, including defence has been lacklustre.
The government has launched a number of welfare schemes such as the Jan Dhan Yojana to help provide a bank account for every household in the country, the Beti Bachao, Beti Padha campaigns to end discrimination against the girl child and the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, a nationwide mission to clean the streets and ensure sanitation.
Modi’s appeal to people to give up their LPG subsidy became a hit with nearly one crore people giving up their subsidy, thereby enabling the government to save up to Rs 10,000 crore. The Centre also managed to pull off the Direct Benefit Transfer scheme for LPG to subsidise 15-odd crore needy consumers. The petroleum ministry has launched an Rs.8000 crore Ujjwala scheme to provide LPG cooking gas connections to BPL families.
Smart City Missions in towns across the country, creation of Mudra Bank focusing on small and medium entrepreneurs and passage of some key bills such as Aadhar, Bankruptcy Code, Black Money, Mines and Mineral despite Parliament logjam have been other seminal achievements of the government.
However, much remains to be done to bring the economy back on the rails. Despite a huge mandate, the government has not been able to kick start big ticket reforms, boost infrastructure, create jobs and contain inflation despite steep fall in international crude prices. Modi has just two more years to turn the economy around as steps, if any taken beyond 2018, are too late to fetch electoral dividends in 2019.
The Centre has also not been able to address the agrarian crisis even as thousands of farmers across the country continue to commit suicide. The promised creation of one crore jobs each year has not materialised and despite Nitin Gadkari fast tracking road and highway construction, infrastructure building is yet to get a big boost. Skyrocketing prices, especially of essential items like pulses, is worrisome.
On the legislative front, reform bills such as GST and Land Acquisition continue to languish in Parliament mainly due to lack of political consensus. The TMC and ADMK may vote for key bills in the Rajya Sabha, but the government’s comfort level can still be upset if other regional parties such as the JDU, BSP and SP gang up with the Congress and the Left. Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, Uttrakhand and Goa are scheduled to go to polls in 2017 pitting BJP against these regional parties and the Congress.
A win in UP, which had given the BJP 71 out of 80 Lok Sabha MPs, is a must for Modi ahead of the general elections when he seeks a re-election. The SP and BSP, competing for minority votes, will do everything to undermine him in the run up to UP polls. If BJP loses UP, its 2019 script could go wrong.
The PM should avoid the path of confrontation with his political rivals. Attempting to drive a wedge between the Opposition parties may be expedient in the short run. The budget session saw complete collapse of engagement between the government and the Congress. It will be in the interest of everybody if political consensus is evolved on key issues affecting the country.
The recent induction of Subramanian Swamy into the Rajya Sabha may not help the cause of consensus. Swamy’s bête noire Arun Jaitely (finance minister and BJP’s key Parliament strategist), may find his job of pushing government agenda difficult should Swamy persists with his personal mission of provoking the Congress.
Swamy’s recent comment that the RBI governor Raghuram Rajan is not “mentally” Indian and he should be sacked has kicked up a storm. It is not clear whether the comment against Rajan, a world class economist and man of integrity, has embarrassed Modi, but it must have shown India in a poor light in the eye of global investors.