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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 23, May 30, 2015

Modi’s One Year As Prime Minister

Saturday 30 May 2015, by Barun Das Gupta

How does one prepare the report-card on the performance of one year of the NDA Government headed by Narendra Modi? There are obvious contradictions in the ideological conviction and commitments of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues and the imperatives of having to run a government which the Constitution mandates is a secular one. All the Ministers and Members of Parliament have to take oath that they will “bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India”. But many Ministers and MPs of the BJP have made repeated public statements that violate the spirit of the Constitution.

To be sure, as the Prime Minister, Modi has kept his record scrupulously clean. He has gone on record saying “My Government’s only religion is India first. It treats the Constitution as its sole scripture. It worships only the cause of the welfare of all.” (The Times of India, February 28, 2015) But he has never publicly reprimanded or remonstrated with those Ministers and Members of Parliament who have made communal speeches aimed at polarising the people on communal lines or delivered provocative speeches that seek to instigate the majority community against the minorities—both Muslim and Christian.

On the economic front, his promise of bringing in achche din for the aam aadmi remains unfulfilled. He has been pursuing the neo-liberal economic policy which was first introduced during Manmohan Singh’s stewardship as Narasimha Rao’s Finance Minister way back in 1991. That policy was a complete reversal of Jawaharlal Nehru’s policy of a ‘mixed economy’ in which both public and private sectors would exist side by side, but it would be the public sector which will dominate the ‘commanding heights of the economy’.

The neo-liberal policy gave free rein to the corporate sector on the national economy. The government consciously abdicated all respon-sibility for production, distribution and pricing. The public sector enterprises that were built with the tax-payers’, that is, the people’s, money, started being handed over to the private capitalists—a process which is still going on. But the corporate sector wanted more and delivered more quickly. Manmohan Singh failed to satisfy the insatiable greed of the corporate billionaires for more profits by going whole hog the neo-liberal way. The legacy left by Jawaharlal Nehru was too strong to be renounced or relinquished. That is why toward the end of the second UPA rule, the corporate bosses (and the media owned and controlled by them) started accusing Manmohan of being crippled by ‘policy paralysis’ and being a ‘prisoner of indecision’.

They came to the conclusion that Manmohan Singh would not do. They wanted someone who could implement the neo-liberal policy more rigorously and decisively, without any inhibition. Their choice fell on Narendra Modi. The media—especially the electronic media—was pressed into the service, firing on all cylinders. Modi was projected as the Messiah who would deliver the country from the mess the inept UPA had landed it into. Catchy slogans like achchhe din ayega and alluring promises like depositing fifteen lakh rupees into the account of all bank account holders swayed the people, especially the younger generation.

Given this background, there was little to be expected from the Modi Government, except more misery for the common people. And this is precisely what is happening now. Reports of farmers’ suicides are coming in an unending stream. This year’s (2014-15) Economic Survey says: “Agriculture and food sector needs huge investments in research, education, extension, irrigation, fertilisers, and laboratories to test soil, water and commodities, warehousing, cold storage.” And how will the money for the ‘huge investments’ come from? Why, by cutting subsidies! The very next sentence adds: “Rationalisation of subsidies and better targeting of beneficiaries would generate part of the resources for public investment.” (Economic Survey, 2014-15, Vol. II, p. 89.)

‘Rationalisation’ is a standard bureaucratic euphemism. Rationalisation of fares means raising fares. Rationalisation of subsidies means reduction of subsidies. And ‘better targeting of beneficiaries’ means finding excuses for reducing the number of beneficiaries. The cost of all agricultural inputs—fertilisers, seeds, irrigation water, diesel for running pumpsets—has increased. Now the government is making a case for further reduction of subsidies ostensibly to ‘generate part of the resources’ for investment in agriculture when the prices of vegetables and all essential commodities are rising.

The people are getting disenchanted. The first indication of how far the disenchantment has spread will be known by October when the Bihar Assembly elections will be held. Modi thinks too much of himself. His remarks on foreign soil that before he came to power, Indians were ashamed of being born as Indians, or that the UPA Government dirtied everything and he is now cleaning the accumulated dirt, will not bring him kudos or recruit new admirers outside the Sangh Parivar. People voted him last year for a change. There has been change but not on the lines the people expected. Rather the contrary.

Modi promised to bring in huge foreign investments. He threw open all sectors of the economy in which foreign investments were not allowed previously, including sensitive sectors like telecommunications and defence. But planeloads of investors with sackfuls of dollar bills have not landed in Delhi. Industrial production has not picked up. Exports have fallen by as much as 14 per cent in April.

Modi’s, and before him Manmohan Singh’s, corporate friends have made the nationalised banks pile up huge ‘non-performing assets’, which means the loans extended by these banks to big industrialists and businessmen were eaten up by them, turning the banks sick. As on January 31 this year, the aggregate NPA of the nationalised banks stood at the astronomical figure of Rs 2,16,793 crores. The banks know that the loans and the interest due on them will be never paid back by the corporate bosses. They are as good as unrecoverable. But year after year they are dutifully showing this unrecoverable money in the balance-sheets as ‘due’ because otherwise it will be exposed that the share capital of most of these banks has been eroded and they are in the red.

Neither Manmohan nor Modi lifted a little finger to recover these dues. On the contrary, his Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, has favoured the corporate sector by reducing corporate tax in this year’s Budget by five per cent. According to former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, it will mean a totally undeserved windfall largesse of two lakh crore rupees to the corporate sector in the remaining four years of the NDA Government. At the same time, the government is taking steps to infuse more capital in the sick banks.

During last year’s Lok Sabha poll campaign, Modi and other BJP leaders used to highlight the anti-democratic attitude of the Congress-run Centre to State Governments run by other parties. Today the same charge may be levelled against them. They are treating the AAP Government of Delhi—a party which won a massive mandate of the people by winning 67 of 70 seats—with utter contempt and disdain.

 The confrontation between the Delhi Govern-ment and the Union Government run by Modi through the proxy of the Lieutenant-Governor has thoroughly exposed the BJP’s attitude towards the spirit of federalism enshrined in the Constitution. The Centre, defending the LG, says the Delhi Chief Minister does not have the power even to appoint a peon. If this be really the position, then the people of Delhi have a right to know why the State Assembly and the State Council of Ministers are being maintained with their—the taxpayers’—money. Why both are not being abolished?

What is more, the BJP leaders are eloquently silent on the demand they had been consistently making in the past that Delhi’s status should be raised from that of a Union Territory to a full State. In the past they had included this demand in their election manifesto. Today, being in power at the Centre, they have conveniently forgotten their earlier stand and are busy telling everyone that Delhi is a UT and the CM of Delhi does not enjoy any powers. All powers rest with the LG.

It is only on the foreign policy front that the Modi Government can claim some credit. Modi has been trying to stand up to China, in contrast to the timid and appeasing policy followed by the Manmohan Singh Government. The NDA Government is also trying to deepen and widen defence and strategic relations with India’s neighbours to contain China and to counter China’s policy of encircling India—the so-called ‘string of pearls’ policy. It has yielded some result. But in the process, the Ministry of External Affairs has become an appendage of the PMO. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is conspicuously inconspicuous in India’s foreign policy initiatives. It is Narendra Modi all the way.

The strong authoritarian streak in Modi has not gone unnoticed in the foreign media. The Economist of London, known as the mouthpiece of the British capitalist class, in its issue of May 23, had this to say about him:

“His progress has been frustratingly slow. The problem is hardly a lack of opportunity. Voters gave his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) the biggest parliamentary mandate for change in 30 years. Mr Modi has concentrated more power in his own hands than any Prime Minister in recent memory. The problem is that India needs a transformation—and the task is too much for a one-man band.”

While he and his charmed circle wax eloquent on his ‘achievements’, The Economist says: “but when it comes to reform, Mr Modi’s record is underwhelming...”

Modi has already disappointed the aam admi for whom he had promised to bring achchhe din. They are getting disillusioned.. Now the corpo-rate bosses are also unhappy with his ‘reforms’ as well as the pace of the reforms. The two together should be a matter of grave concern for him. The Manmohan Singh Government’s fate was sealed when the people turned their face away from him for the mega scams and the untold suffering brought on them by his neo-liberal policies and the corporate bosses abandoned him and opted for Modi. What would be the Modi Government’s fate after four years?

The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.