The second Narendra Modi government has completed six months in office. Arguably, these have been the most transformative first six months of any government in recent decades. What are some of the representative attributes and insights that we can glean from the way these six months, and indeed the year 2019, have panned out?
First, the mind of Modi veers from convention. It commits. Most of us are confronted with challenging situations in our daily lives: We are then asked to say yes or no, and face the consequences of our decisions. Some deliberate, some refuse, some procrastinate, some take decisions in despair, some are forced by circumstances or by others to take decisions, most just don’t take any decision — which is also a kind of decision. But Modi embraces decision. He does not shirk any responsibility. In fact, the greater the challenge, brighter is the scope for Modi to take the right decision and manage the consequences.
Article 370 is now history and Kashmir is peaceful, the Ram Mandir issue has been settled, Pakistan’s nuclear bluff — under which its terror machine operated with impunity — has been called out, economically weaker sections under general category now have reservation benefits without causing any social upheaval in the process; and, the so-called “secular veto” on triple talaq has been neutralised. All of these issues had been pending for years or decades primarily because decision-making was subpar.
Second, an extraordinary quality of the PM is his ability to keep himself focused on the big picture and goals, without getting distracted by transitory events. Two examples best substantiate this. The big picture idea of how to neutralise the roots of separatism in Kashmir was never lost sight of during the transitory phase of 2014-19. And, the ebbs and flows of elections have not changed the developmental politics of Modi.
Third is Modi’s out-of-box-thinking. West Asian politics was almost given up as a lost cause, especially when it came to eliciting support for India’s case in Kashmir. However, as Pakistan has realised after August 5, that was a lazy assumption, one which has been fundamentally altered by a determined leader. This breaking away from self-imposed shackles has become visible in many other areas — the way India has dealt with China, the management of the relationship with both Iran and Israel, and, the “Howdy Modi” celebrations in the US.
Fourth, the PM is the ascetic outsider. If there were some who hoped that Modi could be co-opted by Delhi’s established elite, or that his ideals could be mellowed by the trappings of power, then these six months would have been a rude wake-up call for them. As some articles published in these pages also attest, Modi would simply not be co-opted by the dilapidated and rejected power structures of the old system. He is here to build a New India — one which reflects the aspirations of all Indians and is not a mere catapult for a few connected families and their ecosystem.
Fifth, the PM’s determination to push forward despite odds. The growth numbers of the last two quarters are certainly lower than the standards and expectations set by the Modi government, but he has unveiled some of the most ambitious economic liberalisation steps in almost three decades.
Take just two initiatives undertaken in recent weeks: One, corporate taxes now compete with the most attractive rates anywhere in the world. Governments for three decades have baulked at doing reducing the tax rate for fear of political backlash, and yet, Modi did the right thing by spurring the job-creating Make-in-India investments. The manufacture and exports of iPhones from India is just one example of the success of the Make in India programme. Then, privatisation, which had been on the backburner for a decade, is now firmly back on the agenda. Unlike last time, legal hurdles have also been cleared before kicking off the process.
Sixth, Modi envisioned the future. What are some of the aspirations that we have for the India of 2025? An India which has settled the Kashmir issue for good, in sync with the aspirations of all Indians; an India which is a $5-trillion economy; an India where all citizens are governed by the same progressive, gender-sensitive civil laws; an India which has gained its rightful place on the world stage and an India which is the new job-creating, manufacturing powerhouse of the world. These six months are strong testimony to how a firm foundation for all of these aspirations have been laid out.
On May 30, Modi returned to power with an enhanced mandate after being in office for five years. It is a rare phenomenon in the democratic world for governments to return to power with a bigger mandate, despite facing a combined opposition. There is a well-known maxim about repeatedly elected popular leaders’ and governments. Their first term is to fulfill the basic needs and the second term is to implement the ambitious agenda promised in the manifestos. These lay the path for fulfilling the aspirational goals of the people, thus creating grounds for sustained years of prosperity. Modi has already piloted this model at the state level, thereby getting reelected election after election. Now, it has been scaled up to a national model.
This article first appeared in the print edition on November 30, 2019 under the title ‘The foundation is laid’. The writer is CEO, Bluekraft Digital Foundation and was director (content), MyGov.
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