Modi has miles to go

Modi has miles to go

As the NDA government completes 100 days in office, it is now time to implement poll assurances.

Cracking jokes about Narendra Modi is risky, not just because of the leader’s tough, no-nonsense reputation — and his followers’ ferocious devotion at times— but also because of his sky-high popularity, said a Washington Post article on India’s booming stand-up comedy. Then, it went on to describe how in a Mumbai club, two stand-up comedians open their show with a question: “Raise your hands if you voted for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and if you are not embarrassed.” A few giggled. But many raised their hands. Then a volley of Modi jokes followed.

As he completes 100 days in office next week, Modi’s own thoughts may be mixed: with the talk of strife in BJP being back and the recent by-election results not exactly very complimentary for his party, he has so much to do, so much to undo and so much he could have done better or avoided.

Certainly, he may have very few things to laugh about--because every single day, his performance has been weighed on the scales of high public expectation and delivery, as his critics and admirers would say.

When he had completed a month in office in June, Modi had rued the lack of “honeymoon period” for him. Previous governments, he had noted, had the luxury of extending this “honeymoon period” up to a 100 days and even beyond. Forget 100 days, he had said, the series of charges against him began in less than a 100 hours. A big challenge he was facing in Delhi, he said, was to convey to a “select group of people” his government’s intentions and sincerity to bring a positive change in the country.

Till he delivered the first Independence Day address, Modi felt some people were all riled up because his regime resembled the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) rule, particularly after the first Budget, which was not as revolutionary in ideas as Narasimha Rao government’s first budget was in 1991-92.

So much so, many of his admirers like economist Bibek Debroy, were dismayed for “reverting” to the script of the UPA government he had defeated. “As of now, the momentum is lost. They might still recover it, but we have lost the moment,” said Debroy, who had co-authored a book laying out a reform agenda that the new prime minister himself launched in June.

Others began to ask whether Modi had gone into a shell after his much publicised election promise of “minimum government and maximum governance” that would unshackle key sectors of the economy from the state.

That was when Modi chose the Red Fort address to convey that he was not a UPA copycat but the same old Modi who won the huge mandate and determined to do his job. Also, he will stay on course and remain connected to the concerns of the common people and deliver on his election campaign promises.

Modi gave an account  of his few days in office as an “outsider” who went on to become an “insider”, which was intended to show he was focussed on eradicating the muddle in the bureaucratic system, which he vowed to end.

Also, Modi’s appeal to the people to change their mindset on social issues affecting the girl child was to underline that he is deeply concerned on reports of violence on women.Modi’s announcement of the closing down of the Planning Commission, an institution from the Nehruvian era, was to signal that his government was looking at “out of the box” solutions for addressing new challenges in spreading development.

But, are speeches enough when the country’s problems are stupendous and cynism can replace hope easily?

Even if Modi had pledged in his very first speech to party MPs that he will give an account of his government’s performance at the end of his five year term, every minister is under pressure to show some results.

As Union minister Nirmala Sitharaman put it, “the PM is determined about the tasks ahead. Though he does not believe in any 100-day agenda, we will come out with what’s going on and what steps have been taken in the last three months for betterment of the people.”

Just as the mandate of the 2014 elections was all about Modi, his leadership and dream-plan for a better life for Indians, every single act of his has been seen from the same prism in the last three months. Whether it is the bill to replace the collegium system of appointment of judges, which was criticised by jurists as an attempt to increase the role of executive in judiciary, replacement of UPA-appointed governors, and denial of the opposition status to the Congress etc, Modi  runs the risk of being seen as  too political  in everything he does and unwilling to adorn the role of a statesman that his office demands.

‘Control freak’

Some Opposition leaders say Modi’s political agenda overshadows every decision of his government. He is seen by political rivals as of not doing everything to stop the acts of pro-Hindutva outfits who stand accused of fanning communal politics to benefit the BJP in the states that will go to the polls in the next two or three years.

His call for a 10-year-moratorium on caste and communal issues is seen as too weak in intention to rein in the militant groups and raise the bar for BJP’s politics.

The first major controversy to hit his government -when Home Minister Rajnath Singh expressed his anguish about “rumours” that Modi rebuked his son for seeking to influence his father’s office  and the Prime Minister’s Office’s clean chit --too is  a pointer to Modi’s style of functioning and a widely held impression in the corridors of power that he keeps a “hawk’s eye” on every minister and many ministers feel not empowered on many issues.For a prime minister who is expecting  the best of every minister, an image of a “control freak” may not serve his purpose.   At the same time, Modi cannot afford to appear to be like Manmohan Singh who was faulted for not doing anything to stem the rot.

As every sector looks at Modi’s scorecard, the underlying message appears to be that Modi must act more on the big things he had promised while incremental changes so far are not very exciting. He  cannot afford to be caught sweating out for small things for politics’ sake though he may still remain very earnest about  the country’s core issues of banishing poverty  and development. The forthcoming round of state elections will be the next test. Modi cannot afford to slip.

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