We do not need foreigners to confirm that Narendra Modi remains very popular. The results from Uttar Pradesh confirmed this already. But, for what it is worth, a recent survey by Forbes magazine puts India at the top of countries with ‘the most confidence/trust in their government’. The survey found that 73 per cent of Indians trust the Modi government. If a similar survey were done in newspaper offices and TV studios, the result would have been very different. It is true that there are a handful of ‘nationalistic’ news channels today that believe criticism of the Prime Minister amounts to treason, but by and large my fellow travellers in hackdom continue to despise Modi. I know this because of the taunting that I routinely face for being a ‘Modi bhakt’.
My strenuous opposition to cow vigilantes hunting and killing Muslims has caused me to be abused viciously on Twitter by other Modi bhakts, but in media circles I am seen as a supporter of Modi. It is true that in this column I have often shown support for certain things he has done. I totally support the abolition of the Planning Commission, the Swachh Bharat and Beti Bachao programmes. I totally support the Prime Minister’s emphasis on planned urbanisation and the recognition that India is not going to be primarily rural much longer. But, the real reason for my support is that politically I am a conservative and economically right wing. I believe India could have been the richest country in the world if we had not been held back by Nehruvian socialism. In my view, the economic reforms done by P V Narasimha Rao and Dr Manmohan Singh in the early Nineties brought the only real prosperity India has ever seen.
So when candidate Modi talked of withdrawing the State from business and giving us ‘more governance and less government’, it was music to my ears. I had hoped that by this midway point in his term, the Prime Minister would have delivered on those promises. Air India should not just have been sold long ago but officials responsible for building up losses of nearly Rs 50,000 crore should be named and punished. If Vijay Mallya can be punished for not paying up Rs 9,000 crore, then why should Air India officials not be punished too?
If the Prime Minister meant what he said about government not having any business to be in business, then we should by now have at least seen government hotels sold. In Delhi alone there are at least three government hotels that are decaying before our eyes, and they sit on some of the most expensive real estate in India. The three are the Akbar, the Centaur and the Samrat. The NITI Aayog is said to have drawn up a list of public sector companies that need to be got rid of, so why have we seen so little action?
On the ‘more governance, less government’ front we have seen the opposite happen. BJP chief ministers have led the charge by snooping into people’s kitchens to see what kind of meat was being cooked and by making such a noise about cows that it is surprising there has not been more vigilantism in the name of our holy cows. Beef hysteria whipped up this way resulted not just in shameful lynchings, but the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs in industries related to cattle. Traditional animal fairs like the one held for centuries in Pushkar will probably not survive for long. The worst of it is that the industries threatened with closure employ very poor people.
The Prime Minister routinely urges overseas Indians to come back and invest in making in India. And there has been much hullabaloo about government-sponsored entrepreneurship programmes. They have not worked because governments cannot create entrepreneurs. Indians are among the most enterprising people in the world and for decades they have been held down by socialist policies that give officials the power to interfere in the minutiae of running businesses. The reason why overseas Indians have not flocked back to invest in the homeland and why Indian businessmen are not investing either is because the atmosphere is not as ‘business-friendly’ as the Prime Minister appears to believe it is.
Meanwhile, we have seen such an explosion of cultural conservatism that it is making India look quite ridiculous. The recent effort by the Censor Board to snip words out of a documentary on Amartya Sen is an example of this. So if the Censor Board and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting were abolished in one fell swoop, it would send an important message. These are relics of socialist times when officials behaved like thought policemen. There are other government departments that deserve the chop and the sooner this happens the more real governance there might be.