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Modi: Shastri with optimism

Modi: Shastri with optimism
True leaders can motivate their countrymen even during the most adverse times. Much like his predecessor Lal Bahadur Shastri, Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not hesitate to appeal to the people, inspiring them to keep their hopes alive, despite the many odds. And, by a strange quirk of fate, the situation for both has also been similar. When Shastri took over as Prime Minister in 1964, India was a food importing country. It depended on food imports from North America under the PL-480 scheme. In 1965, when India was at war with Pakistan and facing drought within its territory as well, he had urged the entire country to hold a fast for a day. Shastri had made an appeal to the countrymen to stop eating dal-rice for their meal, which received an overwhelming response and people had actually stopped eating it. Similarly, when Modi initiated 'give it up' scheme and appealed to the well-to-do people to give up their gas subsidy for the sake of country's poor, its response was unprecedented. Perhaps, never before has any PM received such a massive response. Now, Modi – whose government is being targeted for the failing and inadequate scenario of present economic measures – has broken his silence and made an impassioned plea to the countrymen to come out of the mould of negativity. The Prime Minister said that his critics were seeing a depression in the last two quarters but were ignoring that the BJP government had brought down inflation from 10 per cent in the UPA regime to 2.5 per cent, shrunk Current Account Deficit to near 1 per cent from 4 per cent and brought down fiscal deficit to 3.5 per cent from 4.5 per cent. He, in fact, wants to avoid appearing paralysed in the way that the UPA-2 did. His hands are tied to the economy – expert opinion is divided on a fiscal stimulus, and inflation is preventing the Reserve Bank of India from lowering interest rates, which will keep private investment in a deep freeze. However, efforts to enact laws aimed at attracting foreign capital and fostering domestic industry have bogged down. Hopes for such measures have waned sharply during different times over the past two years. The fiscal 2016 draft budget, released in February, has helped restore the hopes of reform. The focus on farming and rural areas raised some eyebrows in the business world, but others praised the move arguing that paying attention to the farmers, constituting more than half of the workforce, will boost Modi's approval rating in outlying regions, smoothening the way for enacting other measures. Thr bankruptcy legislation passed in May had also improved transparency in the financial institutions. His recent admission that the "Government is committed to reverse this trend. The decisions taken by the government will take India to a new growth trajectory" has been very encouraging. Though it is true that demonetisation and the goods and services tax (GST) had impacted India's growth adversely, it certainly changed the outlook of the country's economy – earlier banking on opaque cash transactions. And, not to forget, when the legislative head of India vows: "I will not jeopardize the future of the country for my present gains," it certainly indicates his basic sincerity in purpose. In fact, bold reforms are best to adopt when the economy is in a better position to bear the jerks. And, at that point, Modi and his sipahsalars seemed to have committed a blunder. But, as Modi enjoys a greater degree of political immunity, he also knows how to counter the narrative before it spirals out of control and how to retain his personal popularity despite implementing some risky policies. Indicating the sign of some major changes in the Goods and Services Tax, he held a long meeting with BJP President Amit Shah and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, where he took a call on the economic slowdown and the business community's outcry over GST harassment, as it goes against his government's policy of 'ease of business'. Though he had stressed on the new moral framework in the economy by saying 'honesty will command a premium' and the government will protect the interest of honest persons, he has also ignited the hopes of the people from the informal economy coming to the mainstream. "Let bygones be bygones," he said. And, it is just the kind of assurance that the trader community needed to willingly engage with the new GST framework. Ultimately, fear and intimidation cannot force compliance from the laypeople, especially when it involves a huge change in attitude. Now the million-dollar question is, whether backslapping each other and convincing the people that everything is hunky-dory in the government could really jerk the pillars of governance? If yes, Modi has taken a right stance like Lal Bahadur Shastri – of cautious optimism!

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