In 100 days, Narendra Modi 2.0 sees continuity, but with twist
The first 100 days have been marked by patterns of continuity from the first term, but also, a radical rupture on many fronts.Updated: Sep 08, 2019 23:43 IST
Hundred days after taking office for the second time, following a resounding victory in the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year, the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government outlined its list of achievements on Sunday and laid out its priorities for the rest of the term.
The first 100 days have been marked by patterns of continuity from the first term, but also, a radical rupture on many fronts.
What has stood out most starkly is the pace of decision-making, in keeping with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) manifesto promise of providing a “mazboot sarkar” (strong government), and the strong push to political and ideological issues it has long held dear.
From overhauling the manner in which the Indian state has historically dealt with the issue of Jammu and Kashmir to pushing a range of legislations in the very first session of the 17th Lok Sabha; from having to navigate an economy that is in slowdown mode to expanding its agenda of welfare by giving more depth to its older social schemes; from continuing with its foreign policy engagements in the region and beyond to announcing the creation of the position of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS); and from making water the new national priority to unveiling a campaign against single-use plastic, the government has had its hands full.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the first 100 days of his government were defined by change, determination, improvement and good intention. “In the past 100 days, all the big decisions we took, their inspiration was derived from 130 crore Indians. It is only through your trust that government was able to take decisions ranging in agriculture to national security,” he said at a rally in Rohtak.
“Be it the matter of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh or of the worsening water crisis, 130 crore citizens of India have started looking for new solutions to the problems,” he added.
Home minister and BJP president Amit Shah tweeted: “Modi government is synonymous with national security, development and welfare of the poor. It is a symbol of hope for every section of our society. Within 100 days of Modi 2.0, PM Narendra Modi has taken several historic decisions, for which every Indian had been waiting since 70 years.”
However, the Opposition was not impressed. While Congress leader Rahul Gandhi attacked the government for “continued subversion of democracy”, the party’s spokesperson Kapil Sibal said the BJP’s big mandate had given it an opportunity to provide relief to the common man, but what happened was the opposite. He said the government’s first 100 days in office were marked by “arrogance, uncertainty and vendetta politics”.
The fact that Modi government 2.0 would be different from the first term in significant ways was apparent during the swearing-in and the subsequent allocation of portfolios. While Modi’s authority remains unquestioned and his appeal appears to have deepened, Shah, who played a key role in the election victory, joined the government as home minister and has become the government’s key troubleshooter on a range of issues. Nirmala Sitharaman moved from defence to finance; Rajnath Singh, who is officially the Number 2, moved from home to defence; and the government brought in S Jaishankar, a former foreign secretary, as the external affairs minister.
With a team combining the old and the new, the government used this period to focus on six broad areas – Kashmir, foreign policy, legislations, economy, welfare, and water.
The most significant change has been in J&K – with legislative, political, security and diplomatic implications. On August 5, Shah brought in measures that effectively scrapped Article 370, and with it, J&K’s special status. The state was also reorganised, and two new Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh were created.
The moves were supported by two-thirds of the members in both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, with the government succeeding in bringing over smaller regional parties to its side. But it also generated criticism, especially from the Congress, which questioned the process through which these changes were made. Subsequently, responding to petitions challenging the constitutional validity and legality of the removal of the region’s special status, the Supreme Court has decided to convene a constitutional bench to deliberate on the matter in October.
The Kashmir decision was preceded by, and has been followed by, severe security restrictions in the Valley. The Amarnath Yatra was called off before it ended; non-Kashmiri students left universities; political activists, including mainstream leaders, were detained; communication links – including internet services – were snapped; and mobility was restricted. These measures, the government firmly believes, have helped in preventing violence and bloodshed by blocking terrorists from coordinating with each other and with Pakistan. But these have also drawn criticism from the Opposition, human rights groups, and sections of the international community for what they say are curbs on civil liberties. Over the past few weeks, some of these restrictions have been eased.
In its first 100 days, the Modi government has continued its aggressive foreign policy outreach. From inviting leaders of BIMSTEC to the swearing-in, paying visits to Bhutan and Maldives in the neighbourhood, and deepening ties with West Asia through visits to the UAE and Bahrain to engaging with major powers through engagements at G20 in Japan, G7 in France or the recent bilateral visit to Russia, Modi has been at the forefront of this outreach.
There is a recognition in the government that the international order is evolving; trade arrangements are fragile with US belligerence; security challenges are ever-present, especially with the possible pullout of US troops from Afghanistan and the situation in the Persian Gulf. The government has pursued an approach of “multi-alignment”, seeking good relations with multiple powers, including those in conflict with each other.
The diplomatic challenge got more acute with the Kashmir decision, and Pakistan – and China’s – opposition to it. In this period, India thwarted an effort by its two neighbours to internationalise the issue at the UN Security Council. It has made it clear that Kashmir is an internal affair; the move does not change India’s territorial boundaries; and that the new arrangements will be both more equitable and usher in economic development.
Back home, the third area of focus was in getting long-due legislations through in Parliament. From passing the triple talaq bill to strengthening the legal framework governing the National Investigation Agency, from bringing in amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act to be able to designate individuals as terrorists to pushing through amendments in the Motor Vehicles Act, from tweaking the Right to Information Act to making amendments to the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, the government used both its majority in the Lok Sabha and clever floor management in the Rajya Sabha to push its agenda. Some of these laws have drawn criticism for circumventing process since many did not go to parliamentary committees and for substance, with Opposition parties and civil society groups alleging that they could be potentially misused and weaken institutions of accountability.
The government’s fourth area of focus has been the economy. This has, indeed, been its greatest challenge too. With the GDP growing at 5% in the first quarter of this fiscal year; private investment failing to pick up at the pace needed; corporate sentiment low; consumption down across sectors, especially automobiles; a dip in rural demand and persistently low farm incomes; and high rates of unemployment, the government’s economic management has come under the scanner, with a debate raging on whether the slowdown is cyclical or structural.
The Economic Survey did recognise the need for private sector-driven growth and investment. The PM has repeatedly spoken of the importance of wealth creators. And the government pulled back on certain budget proposals on surcharges that had caused anxiety in the private sector. Policymakers believe that the slowdown is because of legacy issues (including banking NPAs) and a general slowdown in the global economy. And its reform measures would slowly begin showing dividends. The Opposition and critics are not convinced.
A related area that worked well for the BJP in the elections, and which the government is continuing to expand, is welfare. It broadened income support to farmers in one of its first decisions after returning to power. It has expanded Ujjwala to 80 million households; it has continued with Ayushman Bharat; and it has expanded its target for rural housing.
And finally, the government has decided to make water – another campaign promise – a key priority. The ministry of water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation and ministry of drinking water and sanitation were merged to create a new Jal Shakti ministry. The PM declared water conservation as a key goal, and sought citizen participation in the mission, besides committing ₹3.35 lakh crore to the Jal Jeevan Mission.
Analysts believe that Modi government 2.0 has been characterised by stronger decision-making and clarity of purpose, but also agree that the economy will remain the big challenge going ahead.
Ashok Malik, a former press secretary to President Ram Nath Kovind and distinguished fellow at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, said the composition of the second Modi ministry was more cohesive than that of its predecessor. “While gaps remain, it has clearly built on the experiences of 2014-19.”
Malik underlined the significance of the decisions on Jammu and Kashmir and Article 370. “It indicated the government’s willingness to tackle and take on even intractable legacies, notwithstanding immediate challenges. This shows a refreshing boldness and resolve. In the coming months, Kashmir will continue to occupy the government, domestically and diplomatically. And, of course, so will the economy.”
Milan Vaishnav, senior fellow and director of the South Asia programme at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, concurred with the perception that this was a government with greater clarity. “Modi 2.0 has been characterised by a clarity of purpose that was often missing at the start of Modi 1.0.” He also pointed to a new power arrangement in this term. “It also has found a clear division of labour that has paid rich dividends: Modi runs the government and Amit Shah manages Parliament. This kind of floor management was lacking during the first term.”
The economic slowdown, however, continues to be the big concern.
Yamini Aiyar, president and chief executive of the Centre for Policy Research, pointed to the governance challenges ahead. “Thus far, the broad policy focus has been on finding quick short-term solutions in the hope that this will at least arrest the slowdown. But the real challenge lies in addressing the long-term structural issues from agriculture to infrastructure, jobs and building human capital to making the Indian economy genuinely competitive.” Vaishnav, too, said the government’s economic management will be its biggest test. “It has been the government’s Achilles Heel. It is reactive and often working at cross-purposes with its own stated objective of generating rapid growth and stimulating large investments.”
Aiyar, however, highlighted three important steps that could indicate the future direction of the government – the committee for agriculture reforms led by the Niti Aayog, the committee to reform power tariffs and the National Education Policy. “While we await the recommendations of the agriculture reforms and power tariffs committee, the NEP is now in the public domain. This is an important document that recognises the deep learning crisis India is facing and emphasises the urgency for government policy to prioritise foundational learning. If taken forward and implemented, this will serve to address one of the most critical long-term structural constraints to India achieving its 5 trillion dollar economic goal.”
First Published: Sep 08, 2019 23:41 IST