Narendra Modi remains a popular Prime Minister with an approval rating of 74%, and despite what a certain section of the polity and the liberal intelligentsia wants to believe about Nitish Kumar, there is no alternative—at least, none that is evident.
Any critical analysis of Modi’s prime ministership thus far has to start there. Indeed, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) now truly national (with a double-digit share of votes in Kerala in the south and West Bengal in the east in the latest state polls, not to forget its historic win in Assam), it is likely to emerge as the single largest party if elections to the Lok Sabha are held again today.
So, what’s there to like about this government and this Prime Minister?
The absence of any large-scale corruption scandals is one, although happenings in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat have shown that the BJP too is no stranger to corruption scandals. The decline of crony capitalism is a related benefit.
India’s growing global stature is another, although the benefits of these are debatable.
The performance of the petroleum, power, roads and rail ministries is a third.
The focus on large mission-style campaigns—Swachh Bharat, Make in India, Start-up India, Skill India—is a fourth, and, despite all the criticism about their effectiveness, has helped, to the extent that campaigns can (and even if this just means getting the message out).
The willingness to adopt as its own, plans and programmes of the previous regime, including Aadhaar, is a fifth.
The courage to tackle subsidies and issues related to agriculture, both political dynamite, is a sixth.
And Modi’s own very obvious and very evident work ethic is a seventh.
What’s not to like?
The lack of certitude of certain ministries, including finance, especially in key policy issues, is one. The result has been policy flip-flops that put off investors.
The incompetence of certain other ministries, including environment, is another. Despite Modi’s evocative “zero defect, zero effect” slogan, I think we can now look forward to a period of dirty growth.
The free rein given to the BJP’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), in matters related to education and culture is a third.
The unwillingness to listen to narratives and opinions other than its own— and surely, no one can have all the answers—is a fourth.
The inability to build a working relationship with the opposition, important to get work done in Parliament, is a fifth, although, if the second half of the budget session is any indication, the government is finally getting the hang of things.
Its almost compulsive support of anyone who manages to present his issue as one aligned with the BJP and the RSS’s ideology—and everyone from entrepreneurs to self-styled god-men to film directors has taken advantage of this, and used the government—is a sixth.
And Modi’s own silence on issues he should speak out on, and on which he was only too happy to speak out on before he became Prime Minister, is a seventh.
I’ve left out political adventurism of the sort seen most recently in Uttarakhand (because this is characteristic of any government) and the growing disenchantment of businesspeople (because many are more interested in policies that help them, not truly reformist ones).
In balance, that’s not an entirely unimpressive report card, especially for a man and a government running a country that faces first-generation (water, hygiene, etc.), second-generation (power, infrastructure, industry) and third-generation (technology, privacy, happiness) problems—and all at once.
Year 3 may well be the most critical.
R. Sukumar is editor, Mint.