Mandate for continuity, agenda of change
What will Modi do with this power, and how will he exercise it? There are three important elements of his first term that deserve continuityUpdated: May 24, 2019 21:12 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to begin his next term. The 2019 election, as is evident by now, was Mr Modi’s election. He led the party to a spectacular victory. His messages resonated with the electorate. The voters had faith in his ability to take India forward. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) machine converted the support into votes. The opposition is more or less decimated. The partners in the National Democratic Alliance will be a part of the government, but will have little power in influencing the overall direction of the government. All of this means that Mr Modi will enjoy unprecedented power, with few political or institutional constraints.
What will he do with this power, and how will he exercise it? There are three important elements of his first term that deserve continuity. The PM did attempt difficult economic reforms. There were, for instance, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code; the Goods and Services Tax; and the Real Estate Regulatory Act. All these measures contributed to either formalising the economy, or structuring Indian capitalism better, or cleaning up a key channel of black money. There have, of course, been major implementation issues, but the spirit of the reforms needs to continue. The second is the PM’s focus on rural asset creation through housing, toilets, gas cylinders and electrification. These empower citizens and improve the quality of life. The government should continue to expand these initiatives. And finally, the Modi government’s foreign policy, especially with regard to important powers, deserves praise. It navigated a complex international dynamic between conflicting powers — for instance, between the United States (US) and Russia, the US and Iran, or Saudi Arabia and Iran — while managing to keep good ties with all of them. This deftness should continue.
But along with continuity, there is also a need for change. The first area in which the government needs to depart from its first term in office is absolute condemnation of any form of vigilantism, be it under the pretext of cow protection or interfaith affairs. This should be accompanied with an outreach to minorities, who feel alienated from the current political mainstream. There can be a legitimate critique of the manner in which secularism has been practised in India, but India must remain secular where all citizens are equal and the State does not prioritise one religious community over another. These principles need a firmer commitment. The second area of departure has to be in the realm of economy. The Modi government focused on rural assets but not enough on rural incomes. There is a genuine agrarian crisis, and short term economic assistance help but fail to address structural issues. A strong agriculture minister, with a comprehensive roadmap for the sector, is essential. The other element in economic management has to be an almost unidimensional focus on job creation, and finding ways to accelerate investment, and kickstart manufacturing. And the final area of departure has to be Kashmir. The Kashmiri street is angry, there is a political vacuum, the Modi government’s intent is seen as suspicious, the security environment has worsened. All of this can be offset with the PM’s personal involvement. Perhaps his first domestic trip after swearing in could be to the Valley with a message of peace, unity and hope and a commitment to restore true democracy.