Is Modi all hot air, or a real achiever?

K R Sudhaman 

[dropcap]P[/dropcap]M Narendra Modi coined a new phrase, ‘Minimum Government; Maximum Governance’, in 2014. Recently, in his Mann ki Baat radio address, he said good governance was the birthright of every Indian citizen, such as Swaraj (Independence) and we should have it.

Nearly four and a half years after Modi came to power, has his government delivered on good governance or is it just hype? Has Modi just been a good event manager? The growing perception is that he has failed to deliver. The reality is that a few good things have happened, but many things have gone wrong in fulfilling the promises he had made in 2014.

During his 2014 poll campaign, BJP patriarch LK Advani described Modi as a “brilliant event manager”. As the 2019 General Elections approach, the same question is asked and the government has nothing much to show, except reel out some hackneyed statistics, which make no sense to the common man. It is now worth pondering over his achievements and failures. Even his skeptics cannot deny the fact that Modi is a great communicator. But there were other prime ministers, as well, who had great communication skills, including Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and so on. Even Rajiv Gandhi, Morarji Desai and BJP leader Advani were good communicators.

Modi’s great oratory skills are, certainly, a plus point in a democracy, but his ability to shift goalposts to justify his mistakes and failures can fool people, sometimes, through his communication skills, but certainly not all the time. His polarisation politics may have worked well, initially, and brought him great success in the state hustings, particularly in the cow-belt. This helped the BJP capture power quite convincingly in the Assembly elections in 20-odd states. But, as the people started taking the law into their own hands under the garb of gau rakshaks, polarising politics began to boomerang and the reactions started getting louder as the General Elections approached. This is not a welcome development as this has the potential to trigger violence during the polls.

Modi won the 2014 elections on his promise to root out corruption and even promised to bring back Rs80-90 lakh crore stashed away abroad and put Rs15 lakh into every Indian’s bank account. Modi, by himself, may not be personally corrupt as his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, but he has certainly underperformed on this front.

Some steps, like demonetisation, have had a disastrous effect on the economy. Manmohan Singh, a renowned economist, has been proved right that demonetisation was a monumental mistake and has really pushed down GDP growth by over two percentage points. It has also virtually destroyed India’s informal and MSME sector, which provided 80% of the jobs in the country. This also contributed to his underachievement on his job creation promise.

Modi’s policy of frequently shifting goalposts has damaged the credibility of such institutions as the RBI. Commercial banks are in the doldrums because of mounting non-performing assets, which are now beyond Rs10 lakh crore. The passage of the Bankruptcy Code is a welcome development, but letting off the hook such wilful defaulters as Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi, Lalit Modi and so on do not augur well for his image.

Modi’s foreign policy, too, has failed to improve relationships with India’s immediate neighbours. Even with the US, China and such European majors as France and Germany, relations may not be on an even keel. Government data show, in 48 months, Modi visited 52 countries on 41 trips abroad that cost the exchequer Rs355 crore. Modi was apparently abroad for a total of 165 days in four years according to government response to RTI queries. The government spent over Rs4,343.56 crore on media publicity during the four years to highlight the Modi dispensation’s achievements.

Several analysts say that, while Modi has events in, perhaps, every state each week, there is hardly any grip on economic management. India is back to a high inflation-high interest rates regime, high fuel prices and no respite from the taxation authorities.

Rural economy and farming are sore areas where system collapse has been reported day in and day out, especially post-demonetisation. Virtually, a majority of the states have experienced farm distress of some variety or other at a time when both the Centre and states are run by the BJP.

Overall, Modi has managed events well and his four and a half years of governance and performance seem that of a showman than of substance.

(The author is a political commentator)