THREE YEARS OF MODI GOVERNMENT

No government anywhere in the world, least of all a democratically-elected one, has wrought a revolution—unless a systemic upheaval is on the agenda. In a poor and populous country such as India, it is particularly foolhardy to believe that a mere three years would be sufficient to turn the land into El Dorado. A good government is supposed to be a good facilitator, an enabler to help people stand on their own two feet. It is supposed to create conducive conditions for businesses and industries to grow, for more and more people to be gainfully self-employed. And, mind you, under no circumstances for the government to become the biggest employer itself.

Therefore, any fair assessment of Narendra Modi’s three years as Prime Minister will have to necessarily conclude that the environment for economic growth has improved vastly since May 2014. Rent-seeking has ceased. So has the practice of crony capitalism. Objective conditions obtain for all businesses and entrepreneurs, regardless of their connections with politicians. Neither Modi nor anyone else in government or party is in bed with the moneybags. It is a level playing field, a huge achievement, especially considering how mega empires were founded in complicity with the former rulers.

Yes, Modi can be accused of over-promising. Who doesn’t? Politicians ahead of elections invariably promise the moon. Remember Nehru’s Samajwad and Indira’s Garibi Hatao? Modi’s promise of creating jobs is being lobbed back at him by his critics. At a time when governments in the rich world find it increasingly hard to sustain present and retired workforces, it is preposterous to suggest that the already hard-pressed Indian taxpayers pick the tab for a higher public payroll.

Clearly, expansion of opportunities in the private sector, especially service and manufacturing sectors, holds the key to future employment. A million-plus who enter the workforce every month cannot all be absorbed in government. Unfortunately, the private sector is saddled with a huge over-capacity and a mountain of debt. Despite an uptick in manufacturing in recent quarters, expansion of capacities and new projects must wait till the corporate balance-sheets are restored to good health.

In fact, despite the decade-long raids on banks, especially those in the public sector, it is remarkable that the economy has grown at 7-plus per cent in the last three years. Also, inflation, particularly consumer inflation, is well under control, ruling below 4%. The rupee has strengthened. Balance of payments position is comfortable. After a long time, even exports are looking up, in spite of the slowdown in the western world. Also noteworthy is that the foreign exchange reserves now exceed $350 billion.

Although the government has dismantled some of the old controls and restrictions, one can justifiably complain that not enough has been done to pull down the rotting façade of socialism. For instance, persisting with Air India, a white elephant, sustaining which costs taxpayers over Rs 4,000 crore in debt-service alone year after year, is a case in point. There are other areas where the government has been less pragmatic. For example, the one-sided labour laws are so antiquated that they actually are anti-labour, acting as a huge disincentive for future employment. Also, after the initial and hasty effort to amend the ill-conceived land acquisition law, the government has lacked courage to touch this hot potato for fear of being dubbed anti-poor. But for unhindered growth, someone will have to pick this gauntlet soon.

Yes, the bankruptcy code is a positive. So is the single-mindedness shown in cleaning up the balance-sheets of banks strewn with red ink, thanks to the corruption and complicity of the UPA bosses. Now a supposedly business-friendly government has tightened the screws on borrowers, forcing them to sell assets to pay back. The collusive stratagem of ever-greening of loans is abandoned.

GST, a revolutionary reform of the indirect tax system, is to be implemented from 1 July. But the gains could be partial unless the government reforms the tax bureaucracy. Modi’s zeal to lick the problem of black money has often come in handy for corrupt taxmen to harass people. This should be avoided. Nonetheless, it is commendable that Modi showed no hesitation in strengthening penal provisions against the generators and keepers of black money despite that the BJP is widely known to be a party of banias and rich businessmen.

It may be because Modi has re-written the BJP script, concentrating on welfare schemes to take the benefits of good governance to the doorstep of the very people who need them the most. Election victories in the states would not have been possible without the poor getting free cooking gas cylinders, virtually free life and health insurance policies, Aadhaar-linked MGNREGA payments, virtually interest-free loans to hawkers, vendors and the like, etc. Modi as an implementer cannot be faulted. Witness the way he has fine-tuned old programmes and policies to successfully execute them for everyone’s benefit.

But Modi good work should not be allowed to be overshadowed by a small fringe of vigilantes. Supposedly affiliated to the ruling “parivaar”, the fringe periodically indulges in unlawful acts. A vast majority which had voted Modi feels let down, while the ugly acts shame the country globally. Whatever the cause, nobody has the right to take the law into his own hands. The gaurakshaks and the anti-Romeo squads ought to be put down.

No mention of Modi’s three years can be half-complete without mentioning Kashmir. Yes, the valley remains on the boil. The soft and hard diplomacy with the perennially recalcitrant Pakistan has not yielded results. It is an open question whether a law and order approach can succeed in cutting off the foreign hand, but we should reserve judgement till the confusion clears.

Overall, a good three years. Yes, as a parent is prone to tell his ward who gets a first that he could have still done better, PM Modi too could have scored higher had he tamed the loose cannons in the ruling party, and accommodated the Opposition. Vajpayee and Advani could not achieve what Modi and Amit Shah have, especially in electoral terms.

SINS OF OTHERS

In Hindi they have an evocative phrase: Karey Koi, Bharey Koi, meaning an innocent is made to pay for the sins of others. Well, in this case, the former Coal Secretary H.C. Gupta, widely acknowledged by his peers as an honest and upright bureaucrat, has been convicted and given two years in jail by a special CBI court, in one of the several on-going coal scam cases. And the Coal Minister has not only been allowed to go scot free but the judge, in a most curious order, has held that Gupta “misled” him. And, pray, who was the Coal Minister at the time? None other than Manmohan Singh himself. There could have been no greater miscarriage of justice, especially when there is not an iota of hint that Gupta, or the other two senior civil servants convicted by the court and who are still in service, gained a paise from the wrongful allocation.

As is now public knowledge, all allocations were made on receipt of chits from Congress functionaries.  This is nowhere brought on record. Nor the fact that the Cabinet minister in-charge bears full responsibility for the allocations, especially when these were made on specific directions of politicians. The entire bureaucracy feels for Gupta who is being penalised for the then Prime Minister’s cravenness.

DISPUTED LEGACIES 

Chandraswami, who died last week, has left behind a plum property in South Delhi. The self-styled tantric, who had his best days during the time Narasimha Rao and, later, for a brief while, Chandra Shekhar was Prime Minister, had his ashram in the Qutab Institutional Area near IIT, Delhi. Though he had formed a trust, there could well be a tussle over its control. Notably, more than two decades after the death of Dhirendra Brahmachari, who had played Rasputin in the court of Indira Gandhi, the valuable property left behind by him is still being fought over by rival claimants. Indeed, a huge chunk of real estate built by Chandra Shekhar in the national capital and outside lies dormant due to conflicting claims for control of various trusts floated by the late Prime Minister. A case of easy come, easy go, is it?

 

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