“Modiji, achchhe din kab ayenge?” Bhagwant Mann, noted satirist and my party’s MP from Punjab, recited this poem of his on the floor of the Lok Sabha during the monsoon session. It went viral on social media and got more than 5,00,000 hits.
You could say the question is premature. It’s just six months since the new government took office. You cannot expect any visible outcome or full-blown action in the first six months of a new government. You have to assess it by its words and initial steps and reserve your final judgment.
That may be a fair argument in normal times. But this is no ordinary government. Here is the first government after nearly three decades that received a clear majority. Here is a government that rode on popular aspirations. Mr Modi sold a simple and powerful dream to Indian voters. Achchhe din were to usher in the end of inflation, unemployment, women’s insecurity, and what not. The problem with powerful slogans is that people remember them and they come back to haunt.
So, even if we postpone Mann’s question for the time being, we must begin to assess the words, deeds and outcomes of this government. It’s time for its first semester report card.
Let’s start with the words then. The question is not whether this Prime Minister compares favourably with the previous one. That was settled in the Lok Sabha election. The real question now is: What has this government added to the BJP’s electoral rhetoric? Mr Modi is clearly a hit with most non-resident and many resident Indians, especially from the middle class, even though he has been inaccessible to the Indian media. Occasional displays of ignorance and flashes of statesmanship apart, he has not yet presented a larger vision that informs this government. In the absence of a compelling vision, the hope generated by this government could easily degenerate into cynicism.
We need to ask an even more basic question: can you trust what this government says? The ease with which it has taken a U-turn on many policy positions it took during the campaign suggests otherwise. Whether it is cross-border incursions by Pakistan or China, the abrogation of Article 370, or the demand to make the Brooks-Henderson Report public, the BJP has conveniently and wisely forgotten its shrill demands when it was in opposition. The U-turn on black money, the role of the CAG, subsidies, FDI in the insurance sector, diesel deregulation and Aadhar reveal something worse. The party in government may not have thought at all about most of the key issues it faces. It is, therefore, hard to connect what it says to what it might mean and whether it has any will to act on it.
Are these words being translated into action? The Jan Dhan Yojana and Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan are examples of a good, though largely symbolic, beginning. Unfortunately, these are exceptions. There is little action on the black money front where early action was possible and necessary. The government has had nothing positive to offer to farmers. It has reneged on its promise of a higher minimum support price and is threatening to dilute the Land Acquisition Act. On ecology, this government is well on its way to becoming the most environment-unfriendly government in our country.
It is too early to pass judgment on its actions, but can this government be trusted to act in future? Here too this government does not distinguish itself. The treatment meted out to Sanjeev Chaturvedi would demoralise any honest civil servant. For all its claims of probity, the government still has a minister who is untraceable in the eyes of the law. If Suresh Prabhu and Manohar Parrikar are inducted in the cabinet, so is J P Nadda. Besides, it seems that the ministers don’t matter anyway. PMO raj may appear to be an improvement upon the paralysis that preceded it, but it is hardly a sign of ‘less government, more governance’.
As for the outcomes, the real issue is not that we haven’t seen big changes that were promised. The real problem is the effect that this government has produced by winks and nods. The unprecedented increase in localised communal incidents all over north India is not produced by any governmental policy, but is not unrelated to the BJP government being in power. Every Hindutva hardliner who had no audience until yesterday is a player to reckon with. Institutional autonomy, already battered during the Congress regime, is taking nose-dive. Education is the first casualty but others may follow suit. The decision by the SBI to extend a $1 billion loan to the Adani group is just a small example of the kinds of things that happen when autonomous institutions give in.
Sign of things to come? I sincerely hope not.
(The author is the chief spokesperson of the Aam Aadmi Party)