Exactly a year from today, a new government will be in place in New Delhi, and the inaugural session of the 17th Lok Sabha will be under way. A year might seem like a long time, but not for the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo who have changed the rules of the electoral game quite in the way T-20 has done in cricket.
I don’t recall any other government that has been so proactive in launching reforms or schemes. Not all of them have worked out as intended, but in the last four years there has been a relentless effort to bring about change. There is also a method in the madness where most schemes are connected to each other. The massive drive to open Jan Dhan accounts, for example, was linked to the direct benefit transfers that plugged all illegal leakage. The push for skilling was connected with the Make in India campaign. Even demonetisation was preceded by many schemes for people to declare their black money. For making these attempts, the Modi government deserves kudos.
We have ranked the Modi government every year since 2014. Our current issue, the last annual assessment before the 2019 general elections, analyses the achievements of this government over the past four years.
India Today cover story, Goal 2019, for June 11, 2018.
What we have discovered is that there have been tremendous achievements, on some very important fronts — infrastructure, economy and foreign relations. If there is anything that will save this government, it is the pace of construction of roads, development of ports and waterways. It has kickstarted projects held up for years and provided much-needed employment. The economy grew at an average of 7.3 per cent over the past four years with an inflation rate of 3.6 per cent last fiscal. The hidden NPAs of banks that have been festering for years have been brought out into the open. New legislation, such as the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, has made it easier for indebted firms to be sold.
Direct benefit transfers to the needy have been a great success. Corruption at top levels in the government is virtually unheard of and the expansion of the income tax-paying base can only be good news.
However, there are glaring lapses in several other areas. The government’s Make in India mission to boost domestic manufacturing and spur job creation has not taken off. Although there is a dispute about employment figures, you cannot have an economy growing at 6.6 per cent and no new jobs. Foreign investment proposals dropped to Rs 8 lakh crore last year, more than half of what they had been in the preceding two years. Exports fell 3.7 per cent every year from 2015 onwards, with the manufacturing sector still reeling under the aftershocks of demonetisation and the transition to the Goods and Services Tax (GST) while industrial production slowed to a five-month low of 4.4 per cent in March this year.
In the social sector, too, it fares poorly, with no sign of the new education policy or any serious attempts to upgrade the quality of education. The National Health Protection Scheme, set to be rolled out later this year, could be a game-changer in the health sector, though.
The Modi government’s campaign pitch for Election 2019, launched on its fourth anniversary, is "Saaf Niyat, Sahi Vikas" — good intention and right development. A clever slogan that makes up for any shortfall in expectations. These are the twin planks on which the BJP has positioned itself as the party with a difference ahead of 2019.
Fears of the government taking a right turn and appealing to narrow parochial and religious considerations seem unfounded for now. Development, the plank on which the Modi government swept to power in 2014, with the first majority in three decades, still seems to be front and centre on its agenda.
Going by their new slogan, the government cannot be faulted on good intentions. But governance is never just about good intentions. It is about delivery. And what we’ve seen is that many of the well-intentioned schemes failed because of a slothful bureaucracy and the poor bench strength of the Modi cabinet.
Four years later, these unreformed areas continue to be a drag on the government, impacting the performance of its key electoral promises. I have now given up hope that this government will deliver on its election promise of "minimum government, maximum governance".
We are now resigned to living under a regime that is over-reliant on a bloated public sector and bureaucracy, combined with what I call Swadeshi Socialism. Despite these and the recent shock of high oil prices, the economy is projected to grow at over 7 per cent, the highest for a large economy.
This, as it heads into an election year where it is very likely to face a united opposition, but one which has yet to come up with a coherent alternative narrative to the one offered by Modi. There is talk of the government hoping to win on the TINA — There Is No Alternative — factor, but that would be unfortunate indeed. Governments need to win elections on the strength of their achievements, not because there is no alternative.
(India Today Editor-in-Chief's note for cover story, Goal 2019; June 11, 2018.)