Saturday, February 28, 2015

Modi displays his resolve to play a long innings, but…

During his election campaigns, Narendra Modi had often expressed his desire for two consecutive terms as PM so that he might succeed in giving his development agenda a practical shape. The two budgets – Railways and General – underscore his vision of a developed Swachh Bharat, and firmly stamp Modi as India’s Development Man. 

In fact, the evolution of Modi the Politician from being a partisan hothead to one of the coolest, all-encompassing statesman, makes for an interesting study. When he began his bid for becoming the BJP’s face for the general elections based on his Gujarat Model, there was intense skepticism. Somehow, the stigma of 2002 riots would not fade away. The media, and his political opponents, ensured that. It is a tribute to Modi’s self-belief that he stuck to his development agenda and weathered serious challenges from within the Sangh Parivar, before successfully taking on his opponents from other political parties. Actually, the attempts to derail his development agenda have been far more persistent from within than without the Sangh Parivar. The rabid communalism displayed by some of the constituents threatened to detract from constructive governance. It was no coincidence that the utterances of Mohan Bhagwat, Sakhshi Maharaj, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, not to mention the usual suspects like the Praveen Togadias and Singhals, invariably burst onto media headlines on the eve of elections, the Obama visit or some such event when the international media would take notice. The recent attack on Mother Teresa is a case in point.

Modi has done well to not get embroiled in these controversies. He has remained steadfastly focused on his development agenda, as underscored by these two budgets.  It is perhaps the first time that we are having a “path-breaking” or “historic” budget, which is not populist. There are no air-conditioned garib raths, no new trains in the incumbent PM’s or FM’s hometown in the Railways Budget. Similarly, there are no eye-catching sops for the aam aadmi in the main budget either. Instead, we have replacement of the wealth tax with a 2% cess on the super-rich earning one crore or more per year; monetization of gold has been initiated – a politically hazardous issue once upon a time; emphasis on infrastructure building, employment generation and higher education by allocating new IITs and IIMs, along with provision for better medical facilities through additional AIIMS, the super-specialty hospitals to different parts of the country…

This is not to say that there are no drawbacks. There is no mention of quality medical facilities at the grassroots level. Or, provision of adequate quality primary and secondary schools for the poor throughout the country. Similarly, we have not heard much on better policing and security for the vulnerable. There is a lot that needs to be done. But, this budget generates optimism.

In short, the industry should be happy. The upper middle classes must be delirious. The lower income groups must be feeling left out, however. Since MNREGA is not being discarded, it might be some sort of consolation to the poor. Moreover, the fact that the MNREGA is being strengthened, should give them hope of more secure employment avenues; instead of dazzling them with sops this government is focusing on real economic development that will be married to social security and job creation. Eventually, this should lead to a better quality of life. But would this happen? That’s a billion rupee question. And the challenge is more political than economic.

Apart from the expected rhetoric from the Left and the predictable whingeing by the Congress party (Mani Shankar Aiyar complained about the absence of provision of last mile delivery system for the rural poor) there is not going to be any serious opposition from without as far as Modi’s development agenda is concerned. The real threat will come from the forces within the Sangh Parivar. There are plenty there who are alarmed at the increasing entrenchment of the Modi-Shah duo. They will not miss an opportunity to embarrass Modi or even torpedo his development agenda. Modi is not unaware of this. Modi knows well that for any development to happen on an enduring basis there ought to be political and societal cohesion, which is predicated on mutual trust, peace and cooperation. This makes including of minorities in the nation-building process a pre-requisite. He is already strengthening his regime’s hold on the national politics by reaching out to the minorities in his attempt at reinventing himself as a votary of inclusiveness. Although many look askance at his conciliatory gestures, he should succeed if he remains persistent and genuine in his efforts and intentions. 

For the sake of India, let us hope he does.

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