So Far So Good! What Next?
So far so good, but what’s next? This is what most of <g data-gr-id="109">Narendra</g> Modi supporters would ask. Such has been the hope generated by him that despite some disillusionment setting in even among his hardened supporters, people are keen to give him time. They want to test if he would transform the country from lethargy to vibrancy by <g data-gr-id="93">unshackling</g> not only the boundless energy of the youths through economic activities, but also bring in reforms in the system to enable the country’s new take-off since 1991.
Former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao had brought in a lease of fresh energy in 1990s by undertaking economic reforms in a big way. The absence of a matching structure that could promote transparency and accountability unleashed a new reign of economic corruption and scam.
Government monopoly was gradually coming to an end but many of those who benefitted were not the ones who deserved. Narendra Modi is expected to unleash a fresh wave of reforms with an aim to bring in more transparency and accountability. Digital India and the introduction of IT to make the system more transparent is a boon. However, the structure of bureaucracy is the same. Whether the bureaucracy that was known for stifling growth through file movement can be persuaded to promote economic activity. Narendra Modi did in Gujarat quite successfully where bureaucrats were involved in rolling out Red Carpets for businessmen.
India is huge and the bureaucracy is mammoth. Most on record comments of BJP ministers is “we have no problems with bureaucracy”. Ask any official off the record. He or she would say this government has disturbed their equilibrium. The opposition is more at the lower level where people come and go at the right time but are still smarting under the insult of having to come in time. The silver lining is officials in Gujarat has said the same thing when Modi tried to inculcate the discipline in government officials. Five years later they were the ones who voted in mass for Narendra Modi for bringing discipline.
The single most achievement of the one-year-old Narendra Modi government is the absence of any corruption or scam. If seen in the background of the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government that gave the country once scam after the other, this is indeed a spectacular achievement. The UPA government’s coal block allocation had led to a loss of 1.86 lakh crore of Rupees to the exchequer. The allocations were termed illegal by the Supreme Court that cancelled the allocation of 204 coal blocks.
The Modi government used open and competitive bidding through e-auction in March 2015. The estimated revenue for allocation of 33 blocks only came to 2.09 lakh crore. The States- Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh- emerged the biggest gainer when the government decided to transfer the proceeds of allocation to various mining States. When all the coal blocks are auctioned a government estimate says that the States would benefit by the tune of about 4 lakh crore through coal auctions. This is in addition to the royalty they would get which is likely to be of the same amount. This is massive money that these States can use to wipe off the deficit and also launch development programmes.
One can reel out statistics to show that this government had performed reasonably well despite constraints. If growth is an indicator of success, then it compares favourably. If old indicators are used for better comparison, the growth was 4.5 per cent when the Vajpayee-led NDA government had come to power in 1998. When a new UPA government came in 2004, the growth was 8.4 per cent. When the Modi-led NDA government came to power in May 2014, the rate of growth was 4.4 per cent. In one year the growth has been raised to 5.7 per cent, BJP president Amit Shah stressed in an informal interaction.
On the price front also, this government has done remarkably well. The Wholesale Price Index used as an important measure of Inflation has come down from 6 percent in March 2014 to 2.33 per cent in March 2015 whereas the Consumer Price Index (CPI) came down from 8.25 <g data-gr-id="94">per cent</g> in March 2014 to 5.17 per cent in March 2015. The CPI indicates the market situation and the price consumer has to pay for goods in the market. Even the Industrial output has increased from 2 <g data-gr-id="95">per cent</g> in February 2014 to 5 per cent in February 2015. Combined with lower fuel price due to the international situation, these should produce a combined effect that would be good for an average Indian. BJP president held that control over price had led to benefits between Rs 1500 and Rs 4,500 to each family depending on their consumer pattern. This is a big achievement by any standards.
The Modi government can also pride in bringing in about 15 crore people closer to the government by getting their bank accounts opened under Jan Dhan Yojana. Still about 46 crore people are outside the banking system but this is likely to increase once these 15 crores realise the benefits coming to them. About Rs, 15,800 Crore has already been transferred to these accounts. These people are slated to get the benefits of social security through heavily subsidised insurance scheme under Pradhan Mantri Jivan Jyoti Bima Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Surakahs Bima Yojana and Atal Pension Yojana launched. Al these three schemes were launched on 9 May across various parts of the country in115 locations. These would provide some measure of security to the poor at a very reasonable cost.
These steps in concurrence with the zeal to give compensation to farmers even when they had merely 33 per cent crop loss instead of 50 per cent earlier and increasing compensation by one and a half time for loss of crop due to bad weather would present the government as pro-poor and caring.
Why then the government has not been able to present this face before the people? Why is this government being considered pro-rich and pro-corporate? This question was put to Amit Shah. Why is the BJP losing the perception war? His answer was, “the perception has been created by media people. If you feel we have done these works let people know.” He also said that people in the field were realising that this government was doing well and that there has been a perceptible difference between the image being created and the reality.
Even on the issue of Land Acquisition Bill (LAB) that has sought to sully the government’s image as being pro-rich, Amit Shah did not take a defensive tone. “We are convinced this is going to give a big push to development” he asserted and challenged to point out a single clause in the LAB that was meant to support the rich. And he sounded convincing on most points. The farmers who would get good money for the land can always buy more land and can make good use of the money saved. The farmers are convinced that the government’s policy is correct, Shah said.
Why then the government allowed the Congress and other opposition parties to paint the government in the negative. There is no answer. This was due to the old style of Narendra Modi whereby he ignores the media and tries to prove his mettle through performance. Having pushed to the corner, they have finally decided to counter the charges. All ministers and leaders are out in the open to explain the government’s side.
Perhaps this would dawn a bitter reality on the Prime Minister that Delhi is not Gujarat and there are benefits of regular interactions with media. Media thrives on information and if there is no information due to fear of being painted in the negative, the government would stand to lose. Media likes to be persuaded and courted and does not wish to be taught lessons on what it should do. Changing media strategy would help it win the perception war as well.
But this government must realise that it has to come clean on the promises it made to people on the issue of retrieving black-money, providing employment to youths and bring in a system that would make winning or losing justifiable. The government also needs to make people aware that things would not happen overnight and it would take time to stem the rot. After having raised their expectations to the skies, you cannot fault them as being impatient.
The author is a senior journalist