Year 2014: Modi the driving force of the new govt

Year 2014: Modi the driving force of the new govt

With an absolute majority for BJP and the image of a strong leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his PMO emerged the driving force of the new government which critics have dubbed as centralisation of power.

But for a "rank outsider" to Delhi's charmed power circles, Modi made a quick transformation from being a Chief Minister to a Prime Minister who has apparently taken to foreign policy like fish to water.

He engaged vigorously with world leaders including Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping and made a surprise invitation to SAARC leaders including Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for his swearing-in ceremony.

But it is another story that by the year end, Indo-Pak relations remained in deep freeze after India called off foreign secretary-level talks over Pakistan High Commissioner engaging with Hurriyat leaders.

The Prime Minister's image took a beating when he had to contend with controversial statements of hotheads in his ministry and the party. His silence on the issue of conversions raked up by Hindutva outfits has also invited criticism.

The seven months of the new government have presented a picture that everything about it is "PMO-centric" or "PMO- driven", a marked difference from the one headed by Modi's predecessor Manmohan Singh who was considered by many as "weak".

That the PMO would call the shots in the new government was evident at the very beginning when Modi called a meeting of all top secretaries of the central government a week after taking over on May 26 and told them that they should take decisions "without fear" and he would back them.

While allocating portfolios too, Modi made a special mention that "All important policy issues" will be his responsibility, which was read as PMO being omnipotent.

This provided ammunition to the Opposition, which kept taking digs that the Prime Minister is the only one who calls shots in the new government and the rest do not matter.

Unmindful of this, Modi drove the agenda as the government launched a number of initiatives. These include the Swachh Bharat campaign, Jandhan scheme, Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana for adoption of villages by MPs and 'Make-in-India' campaign.

The Opposition described the government's action as an attempt to divert attention from the significance of birthday of Mahatma Gandhi or the death anniversary of Indira Gandhi. The Congress party called many of these schemes as "copy cat" programmes of the UPA government.

Some other initiatives included steps to simplify rules by doing away with 'archaic' laws and bringing in self- certification of documents instead of attestation.

With the Prime Minister laying thrust on attracting maximum foreign investment, steps were taken to liberalise the FDI policy, including in critical sectors like defence and insurance.

The Swachh Bharat (cleanliness) campaign, launched on Mahatma Gandhi's birthday on October 2, has led to a spiral effect with several political leaders and personalities from various walks of life participating in it in a symbolic manner.

However, there have been controversies surrounding it while some feel it is just a stunt.
The Pradhan Mantri Jandhan Yojana is aimed at ensuring that every family has a bank account with a life insurance of Rs one lakh. The scheme is mainly targeted at the poor people.

Over eight crore people had opened bank accounts under the scheme till the end of last month and government is hopeful that 10 crore people will be covered under the scheme by January 26 next year.

'Make-in-India' is a campaign being pushed by the Prime Minister himself. The idea behind this initiative is to make India a manufacturing hub that would create job opportunities, bring in foreign investment and technology by setting up units for exports to third countries.

Modi has underlined that India has the capability to manufacture anything and hence effort should be made in this direction.

Another significant scheme promoted by him is the 'Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana' under which each MP is encouraged to adopt at least three villages for development by 2019.

One more PM-led initiative is to dismantle the socialist- era Planning Commission established by Jawaharlal Nehru and replacing it with a new body that is in tune with contemporary economic reality.

He announced the decision in his maiden Independence Day address from Red Fort and recently held consultations with Chief Ministers on the way forward. While most Chief Ministers favoured the step, Congress-ruled ones opposed it and wanted the current body to be revamped and revitalised.

However, the Opposition is not amused. It accuses the Prime Minister of going back on every poll promise and making "a U-turn every week".

Listing these 'U-turns' in a booklet which was released earlier this month, Congress accused the government of resorting to "white lies" on black money, flip-flop on issues with Pakistan and "double standards" on insurance bill.

Congress said that Modi had promised clean politics but delivered a "tainted cabinet". The Opposition party also accused him of making a 180-degree turn on the issue of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and many "slip-slops" on holding elections in Delhi.

At the international level, Modi did things which none of his predecessors had done. He even beat the drums, literally, in Japan in his bid to attract investments.

At the same time, he laid special thrust on building ties with neighbours.
He chose Bhutan as his first foreign destination as Prime Minister and followed it up with a visit to Nepal.

The move to invite Sharif for the swearing-in was expected to lead to steps to normalisation of relations with Pakistan.

Some bonhomie was witnessed initially and the two countries set the date for talks between their foreign secretaries on August 25.

However, the momentum was lost when Pakistan indulged in border ceasefire violations, firing continuously at Indian civilian areas and security positions, along the International Border and Line of Control, resulting in casualties.

To complicate things further, Pakistan's High Commissioner Abdul Basit met Kashmiri separatists before the scheduled foreign secretary-level talks.

This angered India further and it cancelled the talks, lending a setback to the efforts to normalise the ties.

As regards China, while Modi played a gracious host to Xi in Gandhinagar, the Chinese troops intruded into hugely embarrassing India.

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