With a resounding mandate, historically-low oil prices and unprecedented average growth rates in the 2004-2014 period, the Narendra Modi government had no excuses for performing poorly. Yet, it chose to spend its five years inventing them. It believed propaganda was a substitute for governance. This was compounded by furthering a politics that pandered to the worst prejudices. The Modi government is certain to be remembered for missteps in eight areas:
First, with devastating missteps like demonetisation and the hurried roll-out of a broken GST, the government proved ill-equipped to make sound economic decisions. Unemployment figures reached a 40-year high a few months ago. Instead of course correction, the methodology for calculating GDP was rewritten and employment figures suppressed, while critics were denounced as anti-nationals. Never before have international economists (including the IMF chief) questioned the credibility of India’s data. The index of industrial production stands at a negative and car sales, a reliable indicator of rising incomes, stagnate at an eight-year low.
Second, the defiant mainstreaming of corruption. The prime minister’s office allegedly, interceded in the Rafale deal, sacrificing several key safeguards (as attested to by the CAG). A private party, who lacked any qualifications, was included as an offset partner. The misleading contents of the sealed envelopes in the Supreme Court (SC) betray a government that has much to hide. High-value defaulters fled the country to evade the law.
Third, the isolation of farmers. The BJP manifesto of 2014 promised to implement the M S Swaminathan committee’s recommendations on MSP. An affidavit contrary to that was filed in 2015 in the SC; this was followed by a 55-month silence. The last budget announced a face-saving but meaningless improvement in the MSP. Farmer suicides rose rapidly and protests by people from all over the country took place even in the government’s own backyard, the Jantar Mantar. Yet, the government tried repeatedly to pass a draconian and dishonest land acquisition law.
Fourth, no institution survived from a run in with the Modi government. The CBI crisis, created entirely by the government playing favourites, could not be resolved amicably, even by the apex court. The Election Commission made history by giving clean chits to multiple and egregious violations by the PM and BJP president, while taking prompt action against others accused of identical charges. Government bodies were, reportedly, staffed with men and women whose highest qualification was an endorsement from the RSS. The RBI was bypassed on crucial decisions and the IT, ED and the CBI became instruments of vengeance against those who did not chant, “tussi great ho”.
Fifth, large sections of the media are embarrassingly reluctant to question the PM. Some channels compete to prove their loyalty by asking tepid questions that embarrass the viewer. Journalists seeking hard answers are subject to vile trolling and abuse.
Sixth, hate. On social media, several vituperative serial abusers proudly declare themselves “blessed” to be followed by the PM. The PM and the BJP president rarely condemn, regret, recriminate, suspend or punish. The PM himself demonises an entire constituency as one where the majority is in a minority. The BJP president says that a procession in the streets of that constituency is indistinguishable qua India or Pakistan, forgetting that all inhabitants are Indian citizens.
Seventh, Uri, Pathankot, Pampore, Nagrota and Pulwama marked some of the worst security lapses the country has seen. Unprecedentedly, the PM invited a Pakistani delegation to India to see the results of their dastardly acts. There was a 72 per cent increase in soldiers martyred in the first three years of the BJP government. The last five years saw the most inept handling of Kashmir.
Eighth, the reduction of foreign policy to an anonymous foreign minster and personal aggrandisement of the PM. Countries like Nepal and Maldives actively engaged with China. Sri Lanka’s engagement with China has increased exponentially. A foreign policy has to be more than just an advertising campaign to create a personality cult.
The PM’s obsession with the Gandhi family is the sign of a leader without a vision. Repeated co-option of the achievements of the armed forces (the first Indian leader in 70 years to do so) demonstrates the trait of dictators who confuse strength for governance. It also reflects a disconnect from the problems of those he was elected to govern. References to minorities and religion highlight a blatant disregard for law and its consequences.
A government with a large majority can jeopardise its first term by malice or ineptitude. In PM Modi’s case, it is a lot of both.
This article first appeared in the print edition on May 23, 2019 under the title ‘Five years of missteps’. Singhvi is a MP and national spokesperson, Congress. Khan is an advocate at the Supreme Court