Two years is too short a time to take stock of a government that has unveiled a plethora of pronouncements. But the contrast between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his predecessor Manmohan Singh is already apparent in many ways. Singh was mocked for his silence, while Modi, who completes two years in office today, is being lampooned for talking too much – with one statistic establishing his speeches or public statements at one in every 45.6 hours.
For a nation of 1.25 billion people, we may say that indicates a leadership zeal. Given that the BJP-led NDA falls well short of a majority in the Rajya Sabha, we can attribute the zeal also to a quest for legislative power through state elections that have kept the rulers on their toes. Amid this, the roll-out of schemes such as the Swachh Bharat Mission, Smart Cities Mission, Digital India, Startup India and Make In India is well-intentioned. Just how much management muscle the government has to calculably implement these schemes is a big question. Speeches are measured eventually against performance. The jury is still out on this one.
Modi needs to be commended for decisively ending the economic policy paralysis of the UPA 2 years. The spectrum scandal and the coal allocation scam have been put behind with clear-cut regimes. The passage of the Real Estate Regulation Bill will certainly be hailed as a milestone and a gain of 12 in global “Ease of Doing Business” rankings has upped the investment mood.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley has earned respect for India in macroeconomic management, aided by RBI governor Raghuram Rajan’s hawkish inflation management and falling global oil prices. Modi’s first two years in office have also seen two consecutive droughts and yet India remains the world’s fastest growing major economy. The prime minister has shown astuteness in retaining and building on previous initiatives though his rhetoric may suggest otherwise. The continuation of the MNREGA jobs scheme, the passage of the Aadhar Bill, the Jan Dhan Yojana and a refurbished Niti Ayog are cases in point.
Having visited 40 countries as the PM, Modi has placed himself well on the world map, successfully courted the US as an ally, displayed inspiration in befriending Japan with an “Act East” policy and built bridges with Iran. But tensions with Pakistan persist despite his pro-active flight to Lahore, Nepal is no longer a tame neighbour and relations with China remain edgy.
At home, controversies involving party leaders in needless debates on beef-eating, moral policing and dress codes cast a shadow over the bipartisan image of the government. Overall, the balance sheet shows strengths in governance but liabilities in politics. As the government crosses its half-way mark, the time on hand may appear less than it seems now.