Tomorrow is the last day of the third year of the BJP/ NDA government. It has been dominated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a manner India has not seen since the early Seventies years of Indira Gandhi. Modi has already surpassed the tenures of seven Prime Ministers by surviving three years.
He has provided the decisive leadership that Indian voters had been missing. After 1984, there was no strong leadership whatever the fans of Rajiv Gandhi or Narasimha Rao may say. Rajiv muddled secularism with Shah Bano and Ram Lalla. Rao did not have the requisite majority, nor did Atal Bihari Vajpayee, despite his own fine qualities.
We had to wait till 2014 till a new single party majority emerged with a coalition to bolster it.
Not many people thought Modi would make it and even his party wished he would not win big. Many people doubted he would succeed. It was said that he had no experience of Delhi politics. It was one thing to be a chief minister but very different being Prime Minister. He would not be able to be a one-man show he was in Gujarat.
There are still people in denial. There are also, quite legitimately, people who pick on every incident anywhere in India which can be pointed as an example of Modi’s failure. Every case of violence against Muslims. The vigilante attacks on Romeos (!). Gau rakshaks. Fiery statements made by BJP backbenchers. Surprise attacks by Pakistani armed forces. All are laid at Modi’s door. Of course the Prime Minister must expect that to be the case. He has become the only story in town. The Opposition has concentrated all its criticism on his actions or inactions. Mostly this has rebounded to Modi’s advantage.
Has he succeeded? The economy has registered a steady growth rate of around 7 per cent plus and inflation has been brought down since the days of UPA2. There is an anti-inflation mandate in place for the RBI. Demonetisation did not cause the economic damage people had predicted (even wished), and yielded political benefits. India is being digitised. GST has been passed after 15 years of dithering.
Employment generation remains a problem either because jobs are not being generated or they are not the solid jobs which get recorded by official statistics. This will have to be tackled as an emergency sooner than later. The government has rationalised the benefit payments by increasing the direct transfer element. If Universal Basic Income can be implemented as proposed by the Economic Survey, that would be the most radical redistributive step ever in India. Modi could do it. He has proved with demonetisation that he can take bold steps.
The big change has come in state elections. After losing Delhi and Bihar, the BJP has learnt its lessons. Uttar Pradesh was the fruit of that learning process. The BJP would like to be as dominant as the Congress used to be if Amit Shah can have his way.
It is not impossible.
But serious problems remain. Kashmir is in a more serious crisis than ever before. The Prime Minister needs some of the boldness that Vajpayee showed. He needs an initiative to wean its young people off violence.
Why not make Kashmir the first place to have Universal Basic Income?