Dealing with mixed trends
Undoubtedly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has dazzled India and other parts of the globe, maintaining the image of a 'doer'. But looking back on his first three years in office, there is little to show on tangible outcomes that one can claim as significant achievements, despite the BJP's frenzied attempts at trumpeting their accomplishments after completing three years in office.
This is not to belittle a consuming focus lately on decisive steps against black money and corruption and tax evasion with the enactment of required laws, all designed to ensure a cleaner economy for the future, as well as enhancing of empowerment of poorer sections, notably via universal access to banking services.
But the slide in the Indian economy could not be reversed over three years - a stagnating, jobless growth - and the outlook for current fiscal may be a wee better, after a demonetisation-scarred year of misadventure but by no means, a take-off is likely in fiscal 2018.
Broadly, for the world economy itself and emerging market economies, in particular, there are still risks and vulnerabilities arising out of varying degrees of growth in developed economies and a bigger question mark over China's ability to overcome its surging debt economy-wide, which has led to its sovereign credit rating being downgraded.
India continues to parrot it is the fastest-growing economy at present which is so, not because of what we may have achieved at home, but more by a confluence of economic developments across the world of some 200 reporting nations. It is well to remember we are not alone among the more dynamic economies, looking at the South-East Asian region.
Nevertheless, that we are slightly ahead of China though after three decades may have induced some smugness. But what have we accomplished with this growth? Jobs no, greater productivity no, rise in savings and investment no.
The majoritarian Modi Government is more fixated on 2019 Lok Sabha elections and all reforms, primarily structural such as ones related to land, labour, privatisation and the like, will remain on hold. Meanwhile, BJP leadership decided, in the light of recent spectacular win in UP, and Modi image at its peak, it is time to celebrate the first three years in office at the Centre.
The political capital Modi has built up on the strength of his personality and eloquence would be drawn for even bolder decisions than so far (like "pro-poor Demonetisation") when time is ripe, maybe post-2019.
For the current year and near future, the Modi Government expects the one-nation one-tax (GST) to revolutionise the tax system, yielding more revenues to Government, at the Centre and in States. With rates determined at reasonable levels, the expectation is that GST would prove to be non-inflationary and indeed add significantly to GDP growth in the range of 8-10 per cent.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, with worthy effort to push GST for introduction from July 1, has also cited the advantages of India becoming a common market along with reduced compliance burden for trade and industry and services at all levels. There may still be operational hazards to overcome as GST gets going. If GST had languished for years, BJP must take the blame for its obstruction while in opposition.
Three years may be too short a period to make judgements on some policies that could only have lagged effects. In many areas, we seem to be still on a learning curve. While laws against corruption and benami property transactions have been enacted, more fundamental issues like job drought, agricultural distress, and qualitative dimensions of human resource development are yet to be confronted. These affect the livelihood of a vast majority of the population, rural and urban.
A general line of criticism of Modi Government is its failure to create jobs for the desperate younger people who had faith in him in 2014. The Prime Minister has not directly met such reservations on his three-year record while he has repeatedly spoken of "development" and schemes like "Make in India" and other infrastructural programmes which are assumed to generate substantial opportunities for job growth including by way of self-employment.
Notwithstanding the Government's tax and business-related enactments and continuing measures to facilitate the ease of doing business so far, domestic investments have remained stalled over the last three years. With a greater focus on liberalising foreign investment regime, this government may hope to gain for "Make in India" and in high-tech manufacturing areas including defence equipment.
What has been most distressing is a total disregard on the part of Modi Government for social harmony, tolerance and dissent that are associated with lively democracies. The country has been witnessing over these three years an orgy of extremist Hindutva outfits running riot, taking the law into their own hands to safeguard cow protection or enforce moral codes, even committing lynchings of innocent persons.
The authorities have looked the other way. Hardly ever has Mr.Modi broken his enigmatic silence on sensitive issues while other BJP leaders merely say that law will take it own course. That the BJP/RSS leadership are committed to the culture of Bharatiyata and envisaging a Hindu Rashtra ultimately has become evident.
The Prime Minister himself is least worried about criticisms of his government's "intolerance" and disturbingly allows the impression to gain ground that his "nationalism" is far removed from what India's Constitution adumbrates. It is also evident from the saffronisation of academic and cultural institutions has gone on for the last three years.
Whatever the catalogue of achievements claimed in the report card, the Prime Minister has no doubt made India strong and stable, and infused new confidence, even if his democratic credentials may not be taken at face value. He is too opinionated and seems to have solutions for everything under the sun. At no time had he shown himself to be a consensus-builder in this vast and diverse country with its array of opposition parties. In short, he is yet to do justice to the notion sedulously fostered of his being a 'vikas purush'. Instead, we are reminded that whatever the Modi Government is doing or hoping to do, must be seen as 'Ho Raha Vikas Hai".
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)