There are many firsts associated with Narendra Modi: the first Prime Minister to be born in independent India; the first to clock 174,000 lakh air miles in two years to sell the India growth story abroad; and, the first PM to share his ‘mann ki baat’ with people. It’s a long list.
On the second anniversary of the NDA government on Thursday, Modi remains its USP. What is striking is the PM’s ability to keep the public mood upbeat despite worrying inflationary trends and slow job creation. The PM did not make big announcements in his second year. Instead, the government came up with schemes with more direct public appeal — to provide 24x7 electricity in rural areas, housing for all and accidental death and life insurance. Digital India and Skill India missions were launched, but without much glitz.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley presented a Budget that was widely hailed as pro-farmer and pro-poor.
“Things have started moving in infrastructure sector now… (and) there is more stress in the rural sector. There was a stalemate in the roads, ports, railways and energy sectors during the previous UPA government, which has now improved,” says Bhartruhari Mahtab, a Biju Janata Dal MP. “But, there are unresolved issues. Employment generation is yet to take off. Another challenge is that inequality is growing,” the BJD leader adds.
The NDA has had its share of controversies. The killing of scholar MM Kalburgi, the lynching of a Muslim man in Dadri for alleged consumption of beef, the return of Sahitya Akademi awards by writers protesting growing intolerance, controversial statements by Union ministers and its handling of students’ unrest on various campuses.
The year also saw a tussle between the executive/ legislature and the judiciary over the latter’s “overreach”. It came in the backdrop of the Supreme Court slamming the government over its handling of drought, striking down the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, and restoring the ousted Congress government in Uttarakhand.
The government has, nonetheless, managed to push some vital reforms bills, including the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code to make it easier to do business and the Real Estate Act to protect homebuyers and also developers.
One of the biggest achievements has been “to provide a corruption-free government”, as Union minister Nirmala Sitharaman put it, citing auctions worth lakhs of crores but “not a whisper of corruption”.
Many intellectuals, however, remain unconvinced. “The Modi government has accelerated the decline of education, health and ecology. There is breakdown of scholarships and the lack of recruitment in universities… It’s the continuation of the same Congress mediocrity,” said social scientist Shiv Visvanathan.
If assembly elections are a barometer of public opinion, the NDA’s second year was a mixed bag. After losing in Bihar, the BJP came back strongly, winning Assam and expanding its footprint in West Bengal and Kerala. While its “Congress-mukt Bharat” slogan has gained traction, the fact remains that the BJP, like the Congress, is still incapable of dislodging regional leaders like Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee.
Completing two years in office in 2006, Manmohan Singh had said, “Running a government is not difficult. Building a nation certainly is.” Modi may want to heed his predecessor’s words.