Another busy day waits Prime Minister Narendra Modi on January 26 as he hold talks with visiting French President Francois Hollande, meets scores of visitors and takes part in the Republic Day celebrations on Rajpath. However, Tuesday is a red letter day for Modi for another reason – it marks 20 months since he took oath as prime minister. This means that he is one-third of the way through his term.
This is the perfect point at which to get a sense of his vision and ability to govern. Modi gets full marks for effort. He has started out with several big initiatives: Make In India, Start Up India, Digital India and the Swachh Bharat (or Clean India) campaign among them. His Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna financial inclusion scheme saw 20 crore bank accounts being opened with cumulative deposits of Rs 30,000 ‒ even though it was reported in November that 75% of these accounts did not have any money in them. Creditably, Modi seems to have kept big-ticket corruption under check. E-auctions in sectors like coal and telecom seem to have worked wonders for the government's revenues and image.
However, while a great deal of hype accompanied the launch of these initiatives, the sheen has started to wear off either because execution was patchy or the desired results were not achieved. When he was sworn in, Modi promised to work towards an India that was "strong, developed and inclusive". But 20 months later, Modi is looking at an economy that is in the doldrums, a polity that is divided and a society that is increasingly intolerant.
Modi is a master of optics, but unless the numbers begin to add up, the PR won’t hold much longer. As Modi gets into the most critical execution phase of his prime ministership, here are 20 numbers that should weigh heavy on his mind.
24,716 That was the level of the Sensex when Modi took oath. In time, the stock market went on to touch 30K on the expectations of strong governance, policy changes and foreign investments. But on January 22, the markets closed at 24,435 – lower than the level they had been at when Modi took over. (This despite a recovery of almost 500 points from the previous day, when the markets touched 23,800.) True, there are global factors at play. But the India story isn’t shining and the Congress has been given fodder for jokes that note that under Modi, the "Sensex has completed a round trip in 20 months".
3,228 While the Sensex is not a true barometer of the larger economy, the number of farmer suicides surely are ‒ especially since more than 3,000 killed themselves last year in only one state, Maharashtra. While the government did introduce a slew of measures to help the agricultural sector in this year of crippling drought, it has become amply clear that such packages are ineffective. A complete policy overhaul is essential. The government has now approved a Rs 8,800-crore farmer insurance policy that it hopes will stem the tide.
26 The number of countries that Narendra Modi visited in 2015. But the prime minister’s global outreach policy has give his political opponents ammunition to question his priorities at home. While the ostensible purpose of these trips have been to drum up investments, there is little argument that Modi made these jaunts into an image-building exercise for himself as well. In the coming months, Modi would do well to travel less and focus more on how his ministers are delivering on his numerous projects.
67.63 The rupee closed above Rs 67 to the dollar on the weekend before Republic Day, precariously close to its all-time low of 68.60 in 2013. This performance is in stark contrast to the predictions of Modi's supporters before he came to power: they expected the Indian currency to be valued at Rs 40-Rs 45 a dollar. If Modi is not able to set this number right, he will have a massive import bill in his hands.
3.2% That’s how much Industrial Growth (measured by the Index of Industrial Production) fell in November compared to a year ago. This came on the back of a five-year-high 9.9% growth figure notched up in October, showing up India's fragility in this moment of global turmoil.
$30 That’s the price of a barrel of oil, down more than one-third since the heady days of $100 a barrel late in 2007. Though prices are expected to fall even further, the Modi administration continues to keep retail prices of petro-products inflated without a clear explanation about where the cess is going.
700,000 The number of real estate units unsold across India's eight top cities, a figure that is rising by the week. Despite showcasing strong GDP numbers, the government will be at loss to explain itself if core sectors like real estate don’t pick up soon.
7 security personnel were killed at the Pathankot airbase in December by attackers from across the border. Though the strike was contained after an initial botch-up, it also took another casualty. For a party that insisted that it would not conduct "talks over dead bodies", Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party was left to strike a balance between not appearing too soft in the face of terror and keep alive the dialogue process with Pakistan. In the next few months, Modi’s muscular approach to terror will be tested further.
55 hours were lost in the Rajya Sabha (out of a total scheduled of 112) in the winter session due to disruptions by the Opposition and the picture won't improve soon. Singed by the perceived arrogance of the BJP and having been denied Leader of Opposition status, the Congress is hitting back with full force in the upper house – stalling key treasury legislations like the goods and services tax bill. The recent setbacks in assembly elections in Bihar only deepened the woes of Modi, because his party will never have majority in the upper house now. Despite the acrimony, Modi’s outreach towards the opposition is piecemeal at best.
4 assembly elections will take place in 2016. They become all the more critical after the disastrous rout that BJP suffered in Delhi and Bihar. The BJP had high expectations from both states and the supposedly invincible Modi-Shah duo were supposed to get the job done. Post debacle, the halo of invincibility around Modi has dissipated. The opposition parties are bracing to stave off the BJP in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam and Kerala hat go to the hustings this year. The BJP simply doesn’t have the leaders to deliver in these states and Modi’s attitude of presenting himself as the face of each assembly poll hasn't done much to foster new talent.
90% was the target unachieved after the first year of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign) despite Narendra Modi’s firm backing. It's the same problem: the details just don't seem important enough for Modi and he doesn’t appoint people with the right amount of power. No wonder then that the prime minister is considering a reconstitution of the ambitious NITI Aayog that failed to get states to prioritise his pet projects like Digital India, Skill India, Make in India and the smart cities project.
98,000 crore rupees is the estimated construction cost (at 2015 levels) to make the High Speed Rail Corridor between Mumbai and Ahmedabad a reality by 2024 (at the earliest). Throw in another Rs 4,400 crores to run it and it becomes a very expensive project that Japan is bankrolling. But are passengers really clamoring for such a service between the two cities or would it be a better idea to modernise the entire system of the creaking Indian Railways?
13 The number of months that exports have been falling. Despite the Prime Minister’s Make In India blitzkrieg, the magic isn’t translating to the ground and exporters are bracing for tough times as India’s merchandise exports declined 3.5% in 2014-'15 from the previous year.
2 consecutive years of deficient rain have left farmers desperate and 2016 doesn’t look promising either. At a time when China and the rest of the world are in a crisis, internal consumption can keep India afloat. But if the agrarian distress deepens, Modi’s grand plans for robust growth will fall by the wayside.
200 rupees was the cost of a kilo of dal during a spike witnessed in September and October. The prices of onions, vegetables and other essential items have soared since Modi assumed office. Failing to control the prices of basics will dent Modi’s image as a man who delivers.
40 authors returned their awards to Sahitya Akademi to protest what they called the government inability to contain the rising intolerance towards minorities and anyone who questioned the people in power. Rather than diplomatically dousing the fires, pro BJP voices went the whole hog, questioning the motives of these writers and claimed that they were part of a "grand conspiracy". This has one irreparable damage has been done to BJP’s image. Modi's prolonged silence is being seen as his quiet support for party hardliners.
15 lakhs The amount of money that Narendra Modi during his campaign promised each Indian would get after repatriated black money held by Indians in illegal accounts overseas. His second-in-command Amit Shah later dismissed the statement as a jumla, a platitude, leaving some of BJP supporters feeling a little foolish.
66 The size of Modi's Council of Ministers, which started off at 45 and the promise of minimum government but maximum governance. This stands only a shade below UPA2’s 77 ministers. Not only that, there is a serious question mark over the efficiency of several key ministers.Unless the prime minister surrounds himself with a performing team, he could well spend the next 20 months at high-profile programme launches that result in naught.
50 inches is the measure of the prime minister’s chest as convened to officials of the Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University officials who were designing a convocation achkan for Modi when he visited last week. This information was a little different from the figure Modi himself announced: at an election rally, he had proclaimed that it took someone like him with a 56-inch chest to turn India into Gujarat.
0 The number of interactive press conferences that the prime minister has given since coming to power. Modi believes he can skirt the media by directly communicating with people via social media, radio and rallies. But this one-way conversation makes him appear detached, impersonal and talking down to his audence. While Manmohan Singh was a weak communicator, Modi’s deliberate avoidance of the media isn't winning him any friends.
For the rest of his term, Modi would do well to heed BJP member Arun Shourie’s advice and manage the economy and not the headlines. But for that, Modi will have become receptive to constructive criticism, imbibe a culture of consultative-decision making, foster cooperative federalism, introduce statesmanship in dealing with political opponents and give up his boxing gloves. That would make for an execution-heavy legacy.
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