Hiccups along the road to development
Governing a country is a mammoth task per se, however, with the resources readily at disposal, the task becomes easier. Accusing the former UPA dispensation of a heap of failures, the then Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and BJP had left no stone unturned to showcase UPA's inconsistencies, citing them detrimental to the development of the country. Marred with scams, UPA-II saw an obvious conclusion to its tumultuous regime with a right-wing nationalist voted to power. A plethora of welfare schemes and opposition failures raked up the saffron party's popularity enabled BJP to register a thumping majority in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Since then, India has unarguably progressed. The government perceives the past five years under Modi as an exponential rise in terms of development due to their proactive efforts as summed up by various leaders of the lotus party – drawing sharp contrast from UPAs combined ten years. While development, undoubtedly, happened as it should have given the government's responsibility, terming it exponential would be an exaggeration. And, with development came the hiccups that blemished the current dispensation's "acche din" narrative.
Demonetisation remains the biggest of decisions in policymaking, singlehandedly bringing the entire nation to a standstill. The country listened as PM Modi in his speech on November 8, 2016, around 8 PM announced how from midnight onwards, all 500 and 1000 rupee notes would no longer be valid currency. The expectation was concise and focussed that with demonetisation, those holding onto untaxed black money will be caught. At the time, 500 and 1000 rupee notes comprised 86 per cent of all cash in circulation and hence their withdrawal meant undertaking a massive operation. Modi's speech had three sharp aims of ending corruption – a predominant feature of BJPs manifesto – along with slashing down fake notes and financing to terrorists. Markets struggled as demonetisation hit the floors with long queues for changing the void currency visible across the country. Demonetisation did not impact the GDP much but it landed a heavy blow to the informal sector. Demonetisation, based on its initial aim, was somewhat influential in the thumping victory that BJP registered in UP elections as well. However, as Modi's tenure progressed, the aim of demonetisation shifted drastically with the motive being to make India a cashless economy which will pave way for digital payments. In this regard, the government treats demonetisation as a success but still limits references to same in its campaign. If demonetisation was such a success as it is claimed to be, curiosity pertains as to why it is not at the tip of the tongue of BJP leaders and the government, who stopped mentioning the move. GST followed demonetisation as the new tax regime further affected the economy owing to a hasty implementation. The haste was such that streamlining products and processes took the entire of the remaining tenure.
While India was overcoming the economic shock, mob violence saw a drastic rise. Five years saw a rise in religious fanaticism and fake news on social media as catalysts to a spate of mob attacks across India. Cow protection was at the heart of this as cow vigilantes rose to assault those accused of either killing cows or transporting them to slaughter. These vigilantes enjoyed impunity under the garb of political support which did not do much to prevent lynching from becoming prominent in society. Dadri (September 2015), Jharkhand (March 2016), Una (July 2016), Rajasthan Highway (June 2017), Hapur (June 2018), et al, are instances where civilians were attacked by the enraged mob and justice remained a far cry. Since 2015, according to IndiaSpend, 117 cow protection-related incidents of violence happened and as per Quint, 88 people have been killed in lynchings across India. Lynching did not soar high just because of cow protection but other apprehensions such as child lifting were also singled out as reasons behind the unruly mob justice. Social media facilitated lynching via its massive outreach as fake news ushered mob gatherings and eventual killings.
The government went largely silent on this as an incapable administration struggled to find a remedy. The infamous CBI infighting – an unfortunate spectacle for the entire nation – further corroborated popular beliefs that CBI functions as a political tool. Famously called the "caged parrot" by SC in May 2013, CBI was tagged as UPA's puppet by Modi himself when he said "Congress will not fight the next Lok Sabha elections but will field CBI instead" back in 2013 as PM candidate. Yet, Modi could do little to remedy this tarnished reputation of CBI. Instead, in his tenure, CBI ascended to unprecedented turmoil with the top two cops of the agency accusing each other of graft charges. No Lokpal – additional watchdog on government and agencies – was there to check the regressive affairs of the most prestigious investigation agency despite the Lokpal Act being passed in 2013. NRC and Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) rocked the North East as their terms offered conflicting definitions of citizenship. BJP's claim that CAB aims to give shelter to persecuted minorities came in conflict with dissents from JPC members who posed the question that why did CAB discriminate between migrants on the basis of country and religion when it rode on a humanitarian impulse to provide relief to people. Both NRC and CAB have kept the North East on the edge as the government's actions promoted regional polarisation in Assam.
Meanwhile, Kashmir witnessed increased militancy, mass protests, rising death toll and polarisation between Muslim-dominated Kashmir and Hindu-majority Jammu. In the five years, recruitment of youth to militant groups proliferated and so did the anti-militancy operations which ensured turmoil in the troubled valley, indefinitely. In 2017, gunfights concluded in the killing of 213 militants while 2018 saw 225 gunned down and civilian casualty as collateral damage was overlooked. Surgical Strikes along LoC and increased ceasefire violations (sharp rise since the UPA regime) featured as Kashmir and peace became the two ends of a continuum, if they were not already. In June 2018, the state government collapsed as BJP walked out of the BJP-PDP coalition and the state assembly was dissolved despite a historic partnership between NC and PDP with Congress to claim power. As far as Pakistan is concerned, Modi's stance meandered across his term. From holding talks and formulating what could be better Indo-Pak ties, the situation deteriorated to heightened tensions along the border. Uri and Pulwama forced Modi to take up an offensive stance as India retaliated on both occasions. However, as always, the issue of the troublesome neighbour saw no gross improvement with Modi's tenure being no different than any others' in this regard. The controversial Rafale deal is stuck in the corridors of the apex court and arouses curiosity over the leaked documents which cite PMO's indulgence in defence deals – yet another issue which blemishes Modi's credibility. All in all, development went hand in hand with controversy, and as such, did not let Modi's "acche din" narrative stand apart in utter limelight. Governance in the past five years has definitely been constructive but simultaneously regressive on some fronts too and it all depends on how one perceives these two sides of the five years before choosing a new government.
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