The political transformation that the 2014 general elections brought about in India showed how a set of leadership in power could move out of people’s favour without even realising it. Earlier, the advent of Dr Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister in 2004 became possible because the A.B. Vajpayee government had developed wrong notions of its valuation in the eyes of the electorate by the time it chose to go in for election. Manmohan Singh quickly got a huge build-up as an economist, who would deliver, but with the passage of time his credentials as the chief political executive stood eroded and obviously he never sensed it.
Narendra Modi as Prime Minister looked taller than everybody else because in the backdrop of a non-performing government mired in corruption, the BJP victory in 2014 was seen rightly as his personal success due to his image as a leader of probity who could run the country with a strong hand and deliver. Expectations were high as he was supposed to be free of “compulsions” of coalition politics as well. Timelines for his government, therefore, are much tighter as far as the measures of people’s expectations are concerned.
There are three definite areas where Narendra Modi in the second year of his Prime Ministership can claim decisive success. One is in bringing India on to the world scene in a big way in a matter of months by reaching out to major countries across the globe. The Cold War baggage was successfully dispensed with as non-alignment melted into the policy of friendship with all on the basis of healthy bilateralism and economic advancement.
The second is in the formulation of national projects in pursuit of the mission of “development for all” that would make economic growth a true expression of the nation’s secular approach and benefit the weavers of Varanasi and the guides of Ganga tourism alike. To attract foreign investment, the system of clearances was given a boost by eliminating delays that had existed earlier at a level of notoriety on account of poor inter-ministerial coordination.
The third point of success is relatable to an area that was hitherto marred by chronic confusion, primarily because the policymakers permitted an unhealthy interplay of domestic politics with their stand towards a hostile Pakistan. There were occasions when the influence of India’s “friends” outside seemed to have weighed too much with us — our posture at Havana and response to 26/11come to mind. The present regime, fortunately, has injected a corrective straightforwardness in this sphere.
An ultimatum to Pakistan to choose between the NSA-level meeting on terrorism and an invitation to Hurriyat, which led to the cancellation of Indo-Pak talks a second time illustrated this in ample measure.
Significantly, the international community got the message right even as there were some usual noises raised by the apologists of Pakistan in India.
These positives in the fields of foreign policy, economy and Indo-Pak relations, however, pertain to areas that interest thinking citizens. The masses of India are swayed mainly by a real time economic improvement in their day-to-day life.
The end-of-the-year speech delivered by Prime Minister Modi at Mathura did explain, in the language of the masses, several practical steps taken by him to address the problems of the poor and the deprived. Some of these were repeated recently on Independence Day as well.
People have certainly taken a favourable view of the steps initiated to ensure that every paisa of subsidy given by the government reached them. Easy funding from banks for small businessmen who provide employment to a few hands each, but who do this through the length and breadth of the country, is another effective move that has gone off well. Above all this, having a clean leadership at the top remains a point of great appeal for citizens.
It is however, a fact that prices, jobs and safety issues are the matters that condition the minds of the people the most towards the government of the day. Restoration of law and order and an assurance of the strongest possible defence against an external enemy also add up to the common concerns for all Indians.
Prime Minister Modi has, in the first year, made a number of right moves in the two most important spheres — economic development and security — that shape public perception of governance in this country. The “India First” call given by him lays the foundation for strengthening the cause of national security rooted in healthy nationalism.
India, however, is inflicted with poverty, political corruption and poor infrastructure and is in need of a milestone of delivery of significance every six months.
In this context, it can be said that the call of clean and effective governance coming from PM Modi is likely to attract more votes for the BJP in the Bihar election than what the appeals rooted in lesser identities being made by its opponents, could bring in for the latter. A public endorsement in Bihar will take the Modi government to its next milestone of achievement.
D.C. Pathak is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau.