Waiting for PM Modi’s Achhe Din: The Bad, the Worse and The Ugly

(This article has been republished from The Quint’s archives to mark PM Modi’s 68th birthday. It was originally published on 26 May 2018 for Modi’s four years in power.)

The story of the last four years is one of missed opportunities and dashed hopes, of waiting for achhe din that never came, of seeing expectations raised to the heights by lofty rhetoric, only to come crashing down in the face of depressing reality. 26 May marks the fourth anniversary of an era of disappointment for believers, of vindication for the sceptics, and of frustration for all who want India to thrive.

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All Talk, No Walk

How does one look back at these four years? Economics is clearly a vital prism: Mr Modi came to power boasting of his prowess at economic development, telling the nation he had been a successful CEO of Gujarat Inc and was ready to do for India what he had done for his state.

Against that yardstick, we have a stunning checklist of spectacular failures, headed by a GDP growth rate that has fallen by 2.2 percent because of the twin self-inflicted blows of demonetisation (a bad idea implemented badly) and the botched rollout of GST (a good idea implemented badly).

Manufacturing has contracted, exports have declined, growth in industrial production has slowed, and agriculture is stagnating (or worse, given the annual rise in the number of farmer suicides). Credit growth stood at 5.3 percent in 2016-17, the lowest in over 60 years. There is no sign of achhe din.

A government that promised two crore new jobs a year – eight crore in four years – has generated precisely 18 lakh jobs in that time, and the thrasonical prime minister has been reduced to claiming that pakoda-sellers on sidewalks should also be counted in the employment figures.

The BJP government earned a windfall of $40 billion or Rs 2,33,000 crore in its first three years, thanks to a collapse in benchmark crude oil prices from $108.05 to $48.82 (May 2014 to May 2017) whose benefits it refused to pass on to the aam aadmi. Instead, it levied in extra taxes what might have been saved at the pump, failing to produce a stimulus to the economy, and, given the subsequent rise in global prices, leaving the Indian driver stuck with record high prices at the pump, even as the rupee tumbles to record lows near Rs 70 to the dollar.

To add insult to injury, the State Bank of India, India's biggest lender, has started charging penalty on non-maintenance of minimum balance in accounts, ATM charges and other services – inflicting pain on 31 crore savings account holders, including pensioners and students.

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Name-Changers or Game-Changers?

Instead of being a game-changing government, the BJP has turned out to be a name-changing one.

The only successes it can point to are of schemes that were initiated by the UPA and often criticised at the time by the Opposition BJP:

  1. MNREGA (which the PM sneered at, but now seeks credit for increasing its funding, even though States complain the promised subventions from the Centre have not come);
  2. Aadhaar (which Mr Modi vowed to dismantle but has instead made compulsory, linking it to a number of services that have nothing to do with government benefits, including mobile phone and private banking services);
  3. Direct Benefits Transfer, attractively renamed Jan Dhan as if the BJP had not criticised its adoption;
  4. Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, now packaged as “Swachh Bharat” with lower outgoes but five times the publicity budget;
  5. FDI in retail, the Financial Inclusion Scheme, liberalisation of insurance and GST itself, all of which the BJP had ferociously opposed and now wants to be congratulated for adopting.

Other promises have been dashed with impunity. The PM grandiloquently pledged to bring back the nation’s “black money” stashed abroad, and put 15 lakhs into every Indian’s bank account; neither has happened.

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Neither Development Nor Internal Security

The leader who said “na khaunga aur na khane dunga” has presided over a bewildering variety of world-class scams, from the Vyapam scandal in Madhya Pradesh to a PDS scam in Chhattisgarh, a GSPC scam in Gujarat and a mining scam in Rajasthan, even as his own foreign minister bypasses official channels to seek protection for an Indian fugitive in London and the Panama Papers are given a quiet burial.

National security was an area that brought out the most bombastic pronouncements in the election campaign four years ago. It has witnessed the most palpable failures. Our borders have been rendered completely unsafe in four years of BJP rule.

Repeated terrorist attacks, border ceasefire violations, massive infiltration of terrorists from across the border, incursion into Indian territory by Chinese and Pakistani soldiers, and the frequency of terrorist attacks on Indian Army bases and military installations in Kashmir — none of this speaks well of the competence of our government in keeping us safe.

The domestic record is no better, with the ugly horrors of Naxalism proving the abject failure of the BJP government, which has ensured neither development nor internal security.

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This Frequent Flyer Has Miles to Go Before He Sleeps

Every proud Indian wishes to say a good word about foreign policy: I have long argued that there is no such thing as a Congress foreign policy or a BJP foreign policy; only Indian national interests which any government of any party must uphold.

Unfortunately, though the PM has undoubtedly brought a great deal of personal energy to his extensive travels around the globe, which have enhanced his image and marked India’s presence on the world stage, few tangible gains can be seen for the country from his frequent flyer miles.

The government’s foreign policy record over four years has been marked by:

  1. The absence of a coherent policy on Pakistan, where India’s approaches have featured more ups and downs than a child’s yo-yo;
  2. The incapacity to define and achieve a stable relationship with China, which continues to oppose India’s vital interests at every opportunity;

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  1. Deteriorating relationships with indispensable neighbours like Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka;
  2. The alienating of a time-tested ally like Russia;
  3. The excessive deference to a right-wing Administration in America;
  4. The excessively indiscreet and vainglorious rhetoric on subjects like the “surgical strike” and the raid on Myanmar, with the unwarranted TV bravado of ministers, causing consternation in the neighbourhood.

Had we more space, this threnody could have been twice as long and thrice as painful. For we haven’t even begun to address the painful litany of intangible assaults on all that most Indians hold precious about their country: the overt, triumphalist majoritarianism that has sent alarm bells off among the minorities, the excesses of the “cow vigilantes” and “mob-lynchers”, the purchase of political loyalties by rampant financial corruption, and the subversion of institutions to serve a narrow sectarian political agenda.

Our only hope is that by the fifth anniversary of the BJP’s ascent, we won’t need to worry about any of these, because this disastrous government will be gone.

(Former UN under-secretary-general, Shashi Tharoor is a Congress MP and an author. He can be reached @ShashiTharoor. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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