NDA report card

One year on, Modi government has proved its critics wrong

Modi hasn't brought about the dramatic change his ardent supporters hoped he would. But he didn't commit the dark deeds many had predicted. For his voters, he's been a success.

It was said of Valery Giscard ‎d'Estaing that the idea of a European Union thrilled him but the details bored him.

‎Something similar may be said about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision for India, assuming we can give his scattershot projects the grand title of vision.

Indeed, a lack of overall coherence informs his obsessions, which in military terms may be described as "shoot and scoot‎". Meaning that he lets off a volley here, a volley there and runs along to the next thing whose idea fascinates him but whose details bore him.

‎Take black money of which we heard much during the campaign from Modi himself and which fiasco is now left to be explained by his minions. Let us not go into the details of how much and how soon and so on (for danger of boring ourselves) but let us keep it in the back of our minds to locate him as a thinker.

On taking power, Modi has been quick to shoot off two magnificent projects: Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and Make in India.

A confusing plan

The first confused me when I heard it announced. Was he attempting to reform India's street culture, shaming us with his personal example, like Gandhi? This was what the visuals of him in the first days of the project seemed to suggest. Or was the goal more modest and was : Swachh Bharat Abhiyan merely an umbrella title for all the various toilet construction schemes funded by previous governments? This is what the newspaper adverts suggested. So which is it? What are the deliverables? Number of toilets constructed or number of uncivilised Indians converted? I am still unsure, which is remarkable given how much space has been given to it by us in the media. Of course it has failed because the bureaucratic apparatus is as confused as I am and therefore utterly clueless in execution.

If India could be cleaned up by prime ministerial tweets congratulating opportunist celebrities for holding a broom, our cities would be Singapore if not Tokyo. That they remain filthy is because the fault lies with us and not the government, yes, but who asked Modi to have a crack at social reform? Not his votaries, surely.

Make in India. What is it? How does it work? The governor of the Reserve Bank of India said it made little sense. Perhaps. But you must admit that it has a superb logo. And it sounds right. As Mukesh Ambani observed at the launch of the project - it's not made in India; it is make, giving it an active voice, an urgency.  It must be accepted by all, including Modi-baiters, haters and whatever other name is applied to such people, that the prime minister has a talent for nomenclature. The acronyms – AMRUT instead of JNURM for the urban renewal mission, the various crisp abbreviations – of this government are much better and nicer.

So what's happened to Make in India after that explosive start and all the full-page newspaper ads? I don’t know, really. And few will admit that they do. If manufacturing as a sector is still flailing, that is a function of the reality the RBI governor referred to.

One thing Modi has been universally praised for ‎has been his energetic foreign policy. He successfully closed a deal with the United States that his party prevented Manmohan Singh from closing, and then claimed it was the greatest diplomatic triumph since the Congress of Vienna. This is his privilege and his right as winner of a majority – his opponents should stop moaning.

Pakistan policy

But what is this grand foreign policy really? Let us look at his actions toward our most important and dangerous neighbour, Pakistan. Are we friends or foes? India invites Pakistan for a grand swearing in, sympathises with Pakistan for the Peshawar attack, congratulates Pakistan for sporting victories, sulks with Pakistan for gossiping with two Kashmiris, promises to break Pakistan's mouth by incessant border firing, whines about Pakistan not ceasing fire – and it's not even been a year. No consistency, no vision, no nothing. No thinking.

An awful and cruel piece by the data journalism website India Spend showed that in their first years the effete, corrupt, incompetent, soft and nepotistic Manmohan Singh government and the strong, tough and clean Modi government had achieved pretty much the same thing.

And here I will come to why I think the Modi government has done well. There are those who were terrified that he would bring some sort of fascist rule to India. They have been proved wrong. There are those who were hoping he would bring enormous change and rejuvenate India. They have been disappointed. Most people who voted for him likely expected something much more modest. A little less corruption at the centre, fewer stories of scandals, a continuation of the very gradual improvement in their middle class lives, a little more entertainment from their leader. They have not been disappointed.

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