Stepping into its fourth year in power on Friday, the Narendra Modi government is in a celebratory mood after the BJP’s stupendous electoral success in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, a modest pick-up in the economy and the imminent roll-out of the Goods and Services Tax across the nation in July. But questions remain over the stridence shown by Hindutva outfits over cow protection, love jihad and other socially volatile issues….A special report by V.S. Chandrasekar for Asian Lite News
After the electoral battering in Bihar and Delhi in 2015, the landslide majorities in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand and putting in place BJP-led governments in Goa and Manipur, despite not emerging the largest party in the Assembly elections, have lifted the spirits of the saffron party with just two years to go for the next Lok Sabha elections.
The government says the fiscal deficit, balance of payments deficit and inflation have all come down while the GDP growth rate, foreign exchange reserves and public capital investments have gone up.
However, Opposition parties do not share the government’s enthusiasm on its performance in the last three years. They feel that all government claims about performance is rhetoric and it has nothing to really show on the ground.
They feel the economic growth claimed by the government is a “jobless” growth. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his election campaign in 2014, had promised that if elected to power his government would create 10 million jobs, but officials have acknowledged that the reality has not been anything great.
Demonetisation, a bold policy of “creative destruction” announced by Modi last November, did not dent the government’s image a bit, notwithstanding the long period of cashless days and the long queues outside banks and ATMs.
Rather it boosted Modi’s image as a leader with the masses, like the late Indira Gandhi enjoyed after bank nationalisation in the 1970s. It is another matter whether demonetisation will achieve all that it had set out to — eliminate black money, corruption and fake currency — but politically the Prime Minister reaped electoral gains, at least in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
Several economists, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, had criticised demonetisation as having brought untold misery on the common man, especially those in the unorganised sector like daily wagers and migrant workers. Many of them predicted that the economy could suffer a two per cent reduction in the GDP growth rate.
The Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) is yet to come out with its findings on the effects of demonetisation on the economy, but Finance Minister Arun Jaitley feels the fears were unfounded. Neither was there any impact on demand nor on manufacturing, he says.
The other major decisions were the surgical strikes the army said it had carried out last year on “terror pads” across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir and the decision to approach the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague against the execution of alleged Indian spy Kulbushan Jadhav, sentenced to death by an army court in Pakistan.
The cross-border military strikes were ordered by the government claiming that it would have a telling effect on the infrastructure and financial support given to terrorists by Pakistan. While it put the Congress party on the defensive, critics have raised questions over their effect after a series of terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir, including on the army camp in Uri.
There is all-round concern over the current situation in Jammu and Kashmir which has spiralled out of control ever since the “poster boy” of militancy, Burhan Wani, was killed in a shootout by the security forces last summer.
The government, as well as BJP’s chief interlocutor in Jammu and Kashmir, Ram Madhav, have ruled out talks with the separatist Hurriyat. No talks for talks sake, they say. The BJP’s coalition partner in the state, the PDP, is said to be exasperated at the spiralling situation as Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has made desperate appeals to the Centre to stem the rot.
On the diplomatic front, India’s ties with Pakistan and China have struck a new low. This despite the fact that Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was a guest at Modi’s swearing-in ceremony three years ago and the surprise unannounced visit Modi undertook to Sharif’s house on Christmas Day in 2015.
Talks with Pakistan have remained suspended for long and there are no indications whether they would be resumed any time soon. To top it all, India and Pakistan are now currently slugging it out in the ICJ over the fate of Jadhav. The first round in the battle has gone to India but the last word has not been said yet.
New strains have crept into ties with China. India recently refused to participate in Beijing’s ambitious “One Belt, One Road” project citing sovereignty questions over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passing through parts of Kashmir held by Pakistan. The Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh last month added to China’s rage.
In agriculture, there is a looming crisis with farmers said to be committing suicide in some states after drought brought ruin on them. However, the government has ruled out coming out with a loan waiver scheme, though the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh announced a Rs 36,000 crore waiver within days of coming to power, implementing a poll promise.
Attacking the government, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi says no doubt there have been some achievements but the defining images of this government have been “divisiveness, intolerance, exaggerated trends and a huge chasm between promise and achievement”.
“They have only done ‘jumlebaazi’ (rhetoric) on the issue of job creation. I hope they’ll pay attention to the promises they have made to people on job creation. There is no achievement on the ground,” he said.
Singhvi claimed that in 2012-13 and 2013-14, more than 900,000 and 800,000 new jobs, respectively, were created, during the Congress-led UPA regime.
“However, in 2015-16 and 2016-17, only 115,000 and 135,000 jobs were created. The highest growth rate in job creation was just one per cent. If the economic growth is at seven per cent and job creation is at one per cent, then it is called a jobless growth.
“This is development without employment generation. The jobless growth or the growth without job is the defining image of this government,” he said.
Concurring, CPI Secretary D. Raja, MP, says the three years of the Modi government is characterised by “complete and all-round failure”.
“From putting the economy in peril to jeopardising India’s position globally through inept foreign polices, form undermining constitutional bodies to turning the cow from a mere animal to a tool to kill people, this government has done everything to take the country from bad to worse,” he alleged.
On the economic front, the Left leader said through demonetisation the government destroyed the economy.
“We have had only rhetoric about curbing black money and corruption, but the result is economic slowdown. Farmer suicides are on the rise, unemployment is rising, NPAs of the banks are rising, but the government is using statistics to paint a rosy picture which is far from reality,” he said.
Raja said because of the governments at both the Centre and the state, “Kashmir today is witnessing increased unrest. This government’s Kashmir policy is also a complete failure.”
“Today our educational campuses are steadily being vitiated because of the RSS’ and other right wing forces’ bid to dominate them. For this government there is no place for debate or dissent. In the name of nationalism they are spreading right wing terror,” he said.