The Modi government has completed two years in office and is on its way to the halfway mark. The government came in riding a wave of expectations, after having promised an utopian world and “sabka saath, sabka vikas”, but across the spectrum — the farmer, the young student, the woman, the middle class — a sense of despondency and disillusionment has begun to set in. This is not just a classic case of “overcommit and underdeliver”, but is coupled with an unparalleled abuse of administrative machinery to control the discourse and detract attention from the government’s failures.
During elections, PM Modi had made huge claims about our “demographic dividend” and had promised 100 million jobs in manufacturing by 2022. The reality is in stark contrast to these tall promises: There has been a downward slope in job creation since the NDA government assumed office.
Labour Bureau data has revealed that new jobs in eight major sectors of the economy fell to a six-year low of 1.35 lakh in 2015 compared to 4.21 lakh such jobs in 2014 and 4.19 lakh jobs in 2013. The October-December 2015 quarter recorded a net decline of 20,000 jobs (negative change in employment) — the worst performance in the past six years. Despite the entire hullabaloo around “Make in India” and “Skill India”, the media blitzkrieg through witty acronyms and handy apps, there is no effective change — and in fact, a deterioration — on the ground.
Over the past two years, the country has also been reeling under severe drought. Exposed to the vagaries of nature, including unseasonal downpour at harvest, the farmer has suffered repeated crop failure. We have reached a stage where, let alone for irrigation, water is not even available for daily consumption for roughly 30 per cent of the population.
Rural distress is an alarming reality and the government has been a silent spectator. When its attempts to grab farmers’ land through amendments to the Land Acquisition Act and ordinances were thwarted by a united opposition, the government resorted to reducing MSPs and delaying MGNREGA wage payments to score political brownie points. Far from preventing it, this government has done everything it possibly can, in the past two years, to push the farmer towards the extreme step of committing suicide.
Not just the welfare and livelihood of citizens, but the very institution of democracy is being threatened in the country. The government has left no stone unturned to suppress any view or opinion that is different from its own. Educational institutions around the country — whether it be the Rohith Vemula suicide at HCU, the row over the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle in IIT Madras or the NIT controversy — have fallen victim to the saffronisation agenda of the Sangh Parivar. At the same time, concerted attempts are being made to topple and engineer the demise of India’s federal structure through destabilising elected state governments, as seen in Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. The government is working very hard to sketch a boundary of “one nation, one religion, one culture” and anyone who dares to colour outside this boundary is invariably labelled “pseudo-secular” or “anti-national”, with no regard for nuance in debates or for the implications of such a vocabulary.
While the performance on internal affairs has left much to be desired, external affairs and foreign policy have been no different. Leaders of neighbouring South Asian countries were invited to PM Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in May 2014, amid a lot of pomp and show, to signal seemingly warmer ties, but the goodwill generated in the region has all but evaporated since then. The tragic killing of 18 army personnel in Manipur was used as a pretext to conduct a “surgical strike” in Myanmar by violating international borders. By flexing muscle and fuelling unrest in earthquake-ravaged Nepal, the government has driven the country closer to China and led to allegations of an Indian conspiracy to topple the Oli government there. The Centre’s Pakistan policy has also been marred by U-turns and flip-flops to the extent that India is not negotiating from a position of strength any more — Pakistan is not only deciding when we talk but also what we talk about.
Indians are a patient people — resilient and courageous in the face of hardship. But, the clock on this government is ticking and before people’s patience runs out, it must start acting as the government they deserve.
(This article first appeared in the print edition under the headline ‘This Sinking Feeling’)