6 Years of Modi – A Common Man’s Perspective

6 Years of Modi – A Common Man’s Perspective

Modi is such a polarising figure that it almost instantly ignites a fierce debate in any group; however homogenous it might look on the surface. PR genius of Modi lies in the fact the Modi has been all-pervasive in our daily lives ever since he exploded on Indian polity in 2013-14. His entry into central politics collided with opportune times when Left-liberal order of post WW2 in the western world had started taking a beating on issues such as immigration and terrorism. His rise in Indian polity is sharply attributed to two global phenomena of current times – Terrorism that increasing is perceived synonymous with Islam & unprecedented levels of inequality in capitalist societies around the world. Since his rise to power in 2014, he has solidified his grip on Indian psyche through action-oriented politics coupled with over jealous propaganda machine run by paid professionals & a strong army of zealot Hindutva fanatics.

Ever since Modi came into power, he has kept electoral & political pundits busy with their analysis and opinions about his personal & political life. He continues to ignite heated passion among his followers and detractors with his ever-evolving politics, be it ‘Mann Ki Bat’, controversial de-monetization, courageous airstrikes inside Pakistani soil, abrogation of Kashmir’s special status or world’s largest nationwide lockdown. There has not been a single dull day in the Modi era for Indians.

When tones of Modi analysis is already available in mainstream media, why should one care about reading one more piece? The problem lies in the ideological baggage of these write-ups.

Chances are that you will encounter either sycophantic eulogies or the heart-wrenching doom that is prevalent in India under Modi.

I want to attempt to write this from an ordinary Indian’s perspective who does not have any ideological baggage or has no loyalty or financial incentive in doing so with my limited access and means. If any outsider or a neutral observer wants to know about a common man’s position on Modi who is neither a cheerleader nor a sworn enemy, this analysis should become a primer for him.

If an outsider wants to know how India perceives Modi, he must have a brief primer on Indian socio-politics of the last 72 years. One of the most primitive mistakes, even the most honest & neutral pundits around the world make while writing an expert opinion on wide-ranging subjects, is callous and irresponsible disregard of the local context. How do you understand a foreign event in 300 words from an expert who has never lived in that part of the world with no understanding of people, culture, or socio-political life; one must wonder.

My piece delves into 6 years of the Modi government with a focus on the contemporary burning issues around us. Some of these arguments will be supported by available data while others are formed by 6 years of heated debates and conversations with people of wide-ranging backgrounds and inclinations.

The fiercest critics of Modi contend that the prime minister’s energy and drive are unmatched in current political dispensation. Modi has been at the forefront of massive activity in central politics from policymaking to state elections with his continuous presence. Modi, since 2014, has produced a massive body of work from a policy point of view, and his ever large presence in even smallest of issues such as general cleanliness and what cooks in your kitchen, has been a hot topic of debates around the country. NDTV founder Prannoy Roy famously said after 2019 general elections that we live in new India and this is Modi’s India.

Following issues are the contemporary debate in India which impact daily lives of common man daily and hence, they were used to assess Modi’s performance.

Terrorism

Terrorism which started as a local, undeveloped third world’s problem but has now engulfed the entire world including most advanced liberal economies of the world. While the US, UK, and France have experienced the scale of the problem in the last decade only; India has been one of the worst victims of terrorism since independence. India suffered from the wide-ranging terror groups including Khalistanis, Maoists, North Eastern Separatists, Kashmiri separatists & jihadi outfits as well as cross border state-sponsored terrorism by ISI.

In 2008 alone, India witnessed 11 bomb blasts which included the dastardly 26/11 Mumbai attack, which claimed 166 lives including the terrorists, throughout the year.

DateAttackCasualty
13-Dec-01Indian Parliament Attacks12
13-Mar-03Mumbai Train Blast11
25-Aug-03Mumbai Car Blast 60
15-Aug-04Assam Bomb Blasts16
29-Oct-05New Delhi Market Blasts66
7-Mar-06Varanasi Train Blasts15
11-Jul-06Mumbai Train Blasts180
8-Sep-06Malegaon Blasts32
19-Feb-07Samjhauta Train Blasts66
18-May-07Hyderabad Mosque Blasts11
25-Aug-07Hyderabad Amusement Park Blasts40
13-May-08Jaipur Bomb Blasts63
25-Jul-08Bangalore Blasts1
26-Jul-08Ahemdabad Blasts16
13-Sep-08New Delhi Blasts18
30-Oct-08Assam Bomb Blasts20
26-Nov-08Mumbai Attacks166
Source : – Selected from Wikipedia & news paper articles. Casualty number might vary depending on source.

This was a tipping point from the public reaction’s point of view as public anger reached a pinnacle which found Manmohan Singh’s led Congress government soft on terror incidents. Congress’s government was accused not only of incompetence but also of Muslim appeasement by scuttling probes and pointing to Saffron terror as conspiracy theories.

This is the background under which one must look at the Modi government’s efforts in curbing both home-grown as well as cross border terrorism. It appears that, on this front, Modi has won not only perception battle as there is a widespread belief that terror incidents have sharply reduced since Modi came into power in May 2014, but statistics point towards truth in this argument.😊

Source : World Terrorism Database

As illustrated above, the Modi government has managed to bring down average annual terrorism casualty average by 22%.

However, statistics have a limited appeal in politics as public perception is the key to understand how the government has performed. This is the space where Modi’s charisma is unmatched in the recent history of free India. According to Pew Research, 51% of congress supporters and 78% of BJP supporters admit that Modi has done good work on reducing terrorism which shows the popularity he enjoys across party lines when it comes to stance on terrorism. Modi has cultivated his tough on terror, especially of Jihadi kind, from the beginning as an astute strategy to harness anti-congress anger. He has exponentially increased his image of a strong man after surgical strikes in 2016 and unprecedented Balakot air raids on Pakistani soil in 2019.

While the statistics might show that Modi has only marginally performed better on the terrorist incidents, voters consider Modi as the best-suited leader to tackle homegrown and Pakistan originating terrorism.

Corruption

India ranks 80th place on corruption index in 2019 as per corruption perception study by transparency.org. This has been a marked improvement from 2013 when India was placed 94th in the ranking.

Source: transparency.org & tradingeconomics.com

Modi rode to power on the trail of multi-billion-dollar scams ridden Congress rule from 2004 to 2014. Congress gained unprecedented notoriety where the country reeled from one massive corruption to another during the Manmohan Singh government. 2G scam (2008), Satyam Scam (2009), Commonwealth scam (2010), 3G scam (2010), Cash for Vote scam (2011), chopper scam (2012), Vectra Tata Truck Scam (2012), Adarsh Scam (2012), IPL Scam (2013), rocked congress centric national politics of India. Public perception of congress turned from a nationalist party of yore to the symbol of corruption.

Corruption became the rallying point of masses as the middle class turned to street protests as the Arab Spring arrived in India in the summer of 2011. Anna Hazare led massive anti-corruption protests at iconic Jantar Mantar in New Delhi as public seethed with anger after reports of massive corruption erupted in Commonwealth games. Modi arrived at the national stage with a clean image and an efficient administrator image in this historical backdrop. Modi had cultivated an image of a successful Gujrat model, having served as chief ministers for 3 full terms and he promised to replicate corruption-free Gujrat model across India.

Once in power, Modi declared war on corruption as the historical but ill-fated de-monetization was imposed on India as Modi tried to unearth black money hidden in safe houses. Indian poor and middle class cheered Modi and gave him loud thumps of approval despite being the victims of unprecedented hardships absence of currency hit hard on basic daily necessities. A few deaths were reported across the country and media showed grim visuals of queues and daily hardships faced across the country. The move eventually failed spectacularly as 99.3% of old black money returned to the system. This is where all pundits who were predicting doom for Modi, were met with rude shock as Modi’s popularity not only sustained but it consolidated despite wide-spread acknowledgment that de-monetization failed in its objective and possibly wiped 2% out of world’s second-fastest-growing economy. Modi, emboldened by public approval of his efforts, continued to pursue corruption as a key policy plank. The enforcement directorate went into overdrive under the Modi government as the list of economic fugitives kept increasing. Vijay Mallaya (United Breweries ), Nirav Modi(Gitanjali Diamonds- 13600 Cr. INR), Lalit Modi(125 Cr. INR), Sajay Bhandari(Arms Dealer & Robert Vadra Aide, 500 cr. INR), Jatin Mehta(Winsom Diamond -7000 Cr. INR) were some of the prominent businessmen who fled India after siphoning off billions of dollars from Indian banks and their ventures. Modi government adopted aggressive posturing as it pursued these economic offenders with zeal around the world, refusing any compensation offers and seeking their extradition. This posturing helped Modi in consolidating his image of a tough leader as a focus of corruption again shifted to Congress government from 2004 to 2014 as unearthed scams under Modi pointed to a honeymoon time for unscrupulous businessmen during congress rule.

Modi government has remained largely scandal-free in the last 6 years and there has been some progress made which is statistically significant. India moved from 94th to 80th place in the corruption perception index in these 6 years. Transparency International, an independent body gave thumbs up to Modi Government in its own words :

“Although low-level graft has remained pervasive, the end of 2017 marked three and a half years of generally scandal-free governance under the Modi administration”

– Transparency International on Modi Government’s Anti-Corruption Drive

Government’s effort to increase tax net and its declared war on black money improved income declaration and income tax collections. Gross tax revenue as % of GDP has grown steadily from 10.2% to 11.6%. Government schemes such as Direct Bank Transfer (DBT), close 91 Billion Dollars to poor in subsidies removing the middle man.

Modi government has been a welcome change from extremely corrupt previous dispensation and people have widely acknowledged the relative clean image of the Modi government which is no mean feat in a country where corruption has been accepted as a way of life.

Social Outreach

Modi’s socialist schemes surprised electoral pundits and opposition alike as he came to power on a pro-business and middle-class appeal in 2014. He was widely expected to usher in aggressive pro-business reforms from the land acquisition act to labour reforms. However, it has been his social outreach programs that have endeared him to masses the most. Modi government not only sustained schemes started by Manmohan Singh Government such as NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) but initiated his own ambitious and largely successful programs such as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (2014), Jan Dhan Yojna (2014), Skill India Mission (2014), Atal Pension Yojna (2015), UJALA (2015), Pradhan Mantri Gramin Awas Yojna (2015) to name a few.

These schemes have been partially successful in Rural India as a relative lack of corruption and the use of technology has ensured that rural masses benefitted from these schemes. Case in point remains Modi’s Pradhan Mantri’s Ujjawala Yojna (2016) as it addressed the basic issue of availability of LPG cylinders in homes in India which have benefitted 80M household covering 715 districts (out of 720) in India.

Psephologists contend that his Ujjawala Scheme was a big hit amongst women as Modi solved a key problem in low to the middle household problems where women suffered the most. His political bet on taking on Muslim Clergy by abolishing triple Talaq won him sizeable Muslim women votes and increased his popularity among a section of the Muslim population.

Modi’s outreach extended to address social issues such as lack of cleanliness, open defecation, triple talaq & violence against women. His efforts to eliminate open defecation resulted in the construction of 110M toilets in India where more than 50% of people admitted opening defecation. The WHO estimates that his toilet building spree can save up to 300000 deaths due to hygiene issues from 2014 to 2019.

Modi displayed his unmatched hold on low to middle-class India as India observed new trends in government outreach leveraging social media and technology. He bypassed the mainstream media which used to be the only channel to connect to the common man with power elites and leveraged technology to have a direct dialogue with masses. His twitter handle brought masses directly in contact with him as he interacted with common people on the platform. Modi also launched his flagship radio program “Mann Ki Baat” to build a monthly connect directly to people.  Modi’s style of talking about most basic issues prevalent in low to Middle-class society sets him apart from pedantic, crafted and aloof prime ministerial nation addresses practiced by previous governments.

There is reluctant acknowledgment among his fiercest critics that no one understands the current Indian pulse better than Modi. He sets the agenda and debate while opposition is often caught fumbling for answers with his pace of communication & outreach.  Modi, so far, has been able to outsmart his opponents and detractors with his unmatched connect with masses despite many missteps and misery that was inflicted upon the very same class of people.

ECONOMY

“The Economy, stupid” quoted by James Carville in 1992 is often used to highlight the fundamental cause behind every issue in society. Modi has turned this paradigm upside down. His continued success despite dismal economic performance is puzzling electrical pundits. Modi came to power on the promise of job creation as the Manmohan Singh government battled the unemployment problem in its final 3 years. Modi, with his promised business reforms excited business leaders across the spectrum who predicted to unleash raw Indian energy with fanciful reports by some analysts on Indian Economy overtaking US economy by 2050 to become 42 Trillion Dollar economy at PPP

Indian economy grew on the average 8 to 9% pre-2008 crisis levels which led to this euphoria. However, investment & credit boom overheated the economy without corresponding productivity gains, and the party had to be over at some point in time. Once foreign equity evaporated overnight, India’s dream of double-digit growth came crashing down. While growth remained above 5% in Modi’s first term buoyed by domestic consumption, in the second term consumption had reduced as savings depleted from the middle class. COVID-19 lockdown is threatening for economic contraction for the first time in Modern India’s history.

Another aspect of the economy that is directly related to Modi’s political capital is unemployment.  Indian Economy needs 8M jobs every year according to World bank to keep growth however unemployment is steadily rising in the Indian economy.

The current rate of unemployment of 6.1% is highest since 1972-73.  18% of men and women from ages 18 to 29 are looking for jobs which are alarming rates of unemployment among youth.

Growth of AI and Data analytics is predicted to remove millions of low paying jobs from the corporate sector and it is going to exacerbate the unemployment situation in a country like India. Modi government has taken some key reforms including GST, Insolvency & Bankruptcy code, RERA to improve ease of doing business India however the long-term effects remain to be seen. Modi government in October 2019 announced a surprising and extremely bold corporate tax cut to bring India’s corporate taxation one of the most competitive in the world at 22%. Some manufacturing units are set to have their corporate tax cut to 15%.

source: Indian Budget Report
Surprise Cut in corporate tax makes India compitive among more business friendly countries

The economic impact of these reforms is not yet seen in Indian corporate earnings as business climate across the world is dismal and foreign investments are yet to pick up in India. Will the Indian economy be back on track in the near term future or will it slip into “New Hindu rate of growth” remains to be seen however Modi government has clearly been a serious underperformer on this front.

While the current economic downturn has shown the limitation of policy intervention, the current downturn is going to hit Modi’s popularity at some point in time. Modi needs immediate attention to repair the economy and it starts with acknowledging the problem.

Modi government barring economic front has largely been successful in winning people vote of confidence as lack of corruption and agile, though misfiring sometimes, has been a welcome change from the previous scam ridden Congress government with a tag of policy paralysis. Modi needs to shift his focus urgently on the Economy to sustain his popularity among his youth bases. If he fails to do so in the coming years and the world’s 5th largest economy fails to generate required millions of jobs every year, India is headed towards economic disaster instead of reaping the economic dividend of the largest young workforce.

Gaurav Mehra

The writer is alumni of IIT Madras and IIM Bangalore. Apart from earning his bread in Technology where he works as Product Manager, the writer aspires to write fiction & travelogue when he has made his fortune to call it quits and hit the road in search of the meaning of existence. Write him directly at [email protected]

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