They lamented his triumph calling it the tyranny of numbers. In 2019, the numbers swelled further and his political capital invested a huge amount of responsibility on his shoulders.
Indian politics, long known to suffer for want of a decent track record when it comes to promise and delivery, witnessed a paradigm shift as the Prime Minister almost delivered on each and every promise made in the party’s political manifesto.
This is quite an envious record given that some of the issues featured a long convoluted and complex legacy. The political will to deliver on promises made Narendra Modi presented him as a firm doer one year down the line. This delivery punctures the oft-repeated criticism against his government being a ‘
You may have an ideological quarrel with what he did in the first year of his second term. Even his critics would have to admit that whatever the PM did was as per the script laid out transparently in his party’s political manifesto. Therefore, the criticism of a hidden agenda falls flat.
Voters should rate him highly for the sheer speed, skill and scale at which he delivered what he promised upfront.
Article 370, Ram Mandir, Triple Talaq, Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and UAPA among others are done and dusted. Delivery on these long pending issues has led to the materialisation of the voter trust.
The party must, however, learn from the Maharashtra fiasco. The key lesson being to never take your partners for granted. You disagree in a marriage yet stay together. It is only when you agree that you get a divorce.
Moving away from politics, barely nine months into the second term, COVID struck the world and India didn’t remain unaffected. Modi took centre stage bringing upfront his entire political and administrative capital to take on the deadly virus that had by then already ravaged many parts of the world.
His critics would argue that he was a little late but that is a matter for academic debate. When he got into the act, he didn’t budge an inch from taking complete ownership. He prepared the nation for what many of his critics called an abrupt and ill-prepared lockdown. He was there in your face telling you like a respected family elder that the threat was for real.
The lockdown had to be abrupt to possibly tame the virus. Most importantly, it helped gain a strategic advantage in terms of time. That, in turn, built the infrastructure for meeting the pandemic challenge. Pre-COVID, a country as poor as India, failed to invest in the health sector with successive governments not treating it as a priority.
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That he did see the virus as a threat equivalent to a war showed the intent and intensity of his resolve to take the challenge head-on. Our numbers are yet rising but most importantly the fatality rate is still pretty low.
Modi displayed a hands-on approach and sustained the pitch (at times earning ridicule for his untiring effort to build a national endeavor to fight the virus). Most importantly, his approach during the COVID crisis showed an inclination to collaborate and converge rather than confront. There were obvious irritants but he kept up his idea of team India flying.
With the world witnessing barriers being erected between nations, an ugly side of federal India too is now on display. We have been witnessing rising hostilities between the Centre and states in recent weeks over the resumption of trains and flight services.
This is an obvious collective failure. If cordiality initially defined the team sentiment, a slip up in communication and competing political interests with sub-nationality are playing spoilsport today. All this has left India more vulnerable.
As the world’s stimulus packages became a reference point for addressing India’s COVID woes, especially among the poor and the business community, Modi steered clear of a cash handout.
A new political economy model, where entitlement gives way to empowerment, is his calling card. Doles can't be forever and doles are crutches as the objective is to give economic independence to the poor and the marginalised.
Empowerment vs Entitlement
The idea to steer clear of big-ticket cash subsidy, against key recommendations by noted global economists, has led to an obvious unmissable negativity. While there is definite merit in the empowerment model, the virus has left India bleeding and the wounds are festering for everyone to see. The
migrant crisis presents a sorry state of bureaucracy made worse by political one-upmanship.
India’s poor have been hit the harshest. The lockdown might have so far saved their lives. Poverty in the face of an economic standstill coupled with migration has now exposed millions to the inevitability of starving to death. The blame here can’t be put entirely on the Centre but it can’t escape responsibility.
A cash distribution for the poor would perhaps mitigate the short term crisis. The poor would obviously want more and more. A denial, however, would definitely now cost political capital.
The worst critics of Modi admit that he returned to power on his last-mile delivery with his government turning welfare economics into political virtue. The ongoing migrant crisis poses an inherent political risk.
It isn’t late yet to apply the balm. Modi has to himself address the plight of the poor. The bureaucracy has to take the back seat and introspect over its performance. Respective state governments’ have to compliment his effort.
The BJP government, however, deserves credit for using the crisis to unleash a set of important
reforms that should help revive the economy and endure the growth sentiment in the medium to long term. As he pivoted away from sentiment to substance, a new economic policy mission statement (that rests on integration and not isolation) has set the tone for a new economic order in the country.
At the core of the reform is a vision to build India as the health care business capital of the world. It is a historic opportunity and a goal that can be achieved. India needs to usher in micro reforms and the Modi government’s maximum governance and minimum government maxim has to truly come into play.
The government must ride its resolve to address the socio-economic core with the trilogy of Jal Mission, Swachh Mission and a return to basics like Mission Yoga to boost the immunity of the nation.
The Prime Minister has to make social distancing a national mission banking on the trust India has for Modi. For that, he needs to first translate the idea into an idiom that is truly self-reliant. Social distancing needs a local but vocal version for it to be taken seriously by masses. Social distancing is a must for it is the vaccine between the virus and us.
Rakesh Khar is senior editor, Special Projects, Network 18. He writes at the intersection of politics and economy. Read Rakesh Khar's columns