Am I impressed by the performance of the Modi government in its first 100 days? Only in part. On the other hand, am I disturbed by some of the things the government has said or done? Undoubtedly at times. But the full truth is more simple and straightforward. I feel a little disappointed. I expected more.
Possibly like some of you, I’m a prisoner of the hopes Mr Modi aroused. I was convinced we were poised for dramatic, even transformational, change.
Now I can’t say Mr Modi hasn’t acted. Wherever you look, there’s clear government activity. Taxes have been cut, FDI caps raised, bureaucrats disciplined, a new judicial selection procedure legislated, the Planning Commission abolished and, of course, millions of bank accounts opened.
Unfortunately, this feels incremental. It’s more of the same though, no doubt, better, faster and quicker. Better governance, of course, but the sharp break with the past, the clear shift in direction, the rapid changing of gear hasn’t happened.
To use a cliché, the big bang is missing. We’ve had a series of little acts and, no doubt, taken together they could add up to a lot. But the climactic moment we were awaiting hasn’t happened.
I can best explain what I mean by talking about what’s happened on the economic front. Here, decisions are being taken faster, their implementation is smoother, perhaps corruption is being squeezed and, possibly, civil servants are working more purposively. No doubt this will increase growth. It’s already cheered up the stock market. And, some would say, you can hear the engine starting.
However, the visionary structural reforms we hoped for haven’t happened. Labour law reform, except at the margins, is languishing. Retrospective taxation hasn’t been reversed though we’ve been promised it won’t happen again. The Land Acquisition Act won’t be amended, merely the list of exemptions increased. FDI in defence has been raised but only to an unsatisfactory 49%. And though the finance minister’s recent comments suggest GST is happening, his budget deliberately didn’t set a deadline.
Do you now see why I’m pleased but also disappointed? I can’t scoff at what’s been done but my applause is subdued.
If you think about it, the same equivocation applies to the Modi government’s performance in foreign policy. The Saarc Summit he created around his swearing-in, his successful visits to Bhutan, Nepal and Japan and the mature and confident handling of the United States, Britain and France are proof of a confidence and sure-footedness that, quite frankly, surprised me. I didn’t think he had it in him. You could even argue Mr Modi’s greatest success seems to be in foreign affairs.
The exception is the handling of Pakistan. Till he made the silly mistake of calling off foreign secretary-level talks, because the Pakistan high commissioner met with Hurriyat, Mr Modi was, in fact, creating a new relationship. Either inexperience or hubris tripped him up. Now he has to dig myself out of a self-made hole.
The black mark — and I’m afraid there is one — is the deliberate and communally polarising comments from BJP leaders in UP and the prime minister’s inexplicable silence. I wrote about this last week so I won’t repeat myself.
Yet there’s a small point I want to make. Many believe the prime minister has risen above his past. Perhaps he has. But he must also distance himself from the extremist elements amongst his supporters. It may be difficult and painful but it’s essential.
The views expressed by the author are personal