For the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), it could not have asked for a better augury to celebrate two years of its government at the centre than the results in the four states that went to the polls. The BJP has now established its political footprint in the north-east and expanded its presence in south India even as it makes some inroads in the east.
It can now claim a pan-India presence. The harvest of 2016 more than compensates for its electoral drought of 2015. What then does the political balance sheet of the Modi-led government show as its assets and liabilities.
The party was voted to power with high expectations reflected in the slew of promises it made to the Indian electorate. The vigorous high-decibel electoral campaign led by Modi himself had created a surfeit of expectations. Good days, he had repeatedly promised, were coming. In his victory, the party cadres claimed that good days had arrived. In the two years, has the rhetoric translated itself into reality, promise seen some performance and rising aspirations been responded to by realistic actions?
After five years of a virtually inactive and paralysed United Progressive Alliance-2 government, even a small step was seen as a massive move forward. The master communicator that he is, Prime Minister Modi kept the momentum going by announcing a range of high-ticket measures and spreading the message across the country and abroad through well-planned public interactions and ingenious ways of speaking directly to his target audience.
His Mann Ki Baat radio programme was a communication master stroke, though it did invite the frequent jibe from his opponents. His address to students on Children’s Day, interaction with teachers on Teachers Day, his packed calendar of programmes with the armed forces at the border or Indian diaspora abroad, his frequent and immediate visits to sites of crisis and disaster, all were high-visibility moments that were well-orchestrated and highlighted in all forms of media.
This spotlight of attention, of course, has its flip side as it invites a range of comments, some unabashedly critical and some uncritically supportive. In the past two years, one had the feeling of a leadership that was brimming with energy and always on the move. The critic would, of course, challenge the direction of the moves and the consequences of the unleashing of this “high energy".
Governance, it is often said, is about a team and not an individual. The prime minister has handpicked his cabinet and key bureaucrats keeping in mind the need to deliver on the promises made. In the next three years, one hopes that those the leadership trusts would have the autonomy and capacity to take decisions forward on the pathway of implementation.
The master political strategist that he is, Prime Minister Modi realized that the first year in government must see the rolling out of some high-ticket measures. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan was a instant hit with people as it gave expression to a desire among people that they had no way of implementing. At the end of year two, the question that needs to be asked is whether the Swachh Bharat event would remain a cleanliness drive now and then or would really transform itself into a sustained movement that captures the imagination of the people.
The move to get all Indian citizens to open a bank account is yet another initiative that was waiting for long to happen. As was the insurance schemes and targeted programmes aimed at empowering the girl child. Sustaining the momentum of all these initiatives over the next three years will decide whether the government reaps the political dividend in 2019.
Prime Minister Modi came to power with little visible experience in foreign policy. A closer scrutiny of his time as Gujarat chief minister would indicate his many foreign forays to attract investment for his state. As prime minister, he sought to give foreign policy the much needed economic orientation and tapping the potential of the support of the Indian diaspora. Thus, no major foreign sojourn was complete without a high-visibility programme that involved addressing the Indian diaspora. This not only helped the prime minister gain visibility abroad but could also be relayed back home to keep the support momentum in place.
Two years of the BJP government led by Modi does indicate some potential liabilities in the balance sheet. One had hoped that the new government would pursue the positive politics of inclusiveness rather than the negative politics of confrontation. Every moment was often seen as an occasion to score brownie points over political opponents.
Thus the MGNREGA scheme, it was promised, would be continued as it showed the follies of previous regimes and memories of such follies had to be kept alive! Poaching on unstable Congress governments was encouraged in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, reviving memories of the Congress politics of the 1970s and ’80s. The Article 356 fiasco in Uttarakhand could have been best avoided, especially when the BJP manifesto promised a respect to federal traditions and that Team India was not just about the centre but included all the states.
In its eagerness to realize its rhetorical call for a Congress-mukt Bharat (Congress-free India), there appears to be an unseemly haste and many a misstep. A deeper analysis, especially after the 2016 verdict, would show that while the Congress is mukt from power in many states, Bharat will continue to see the presence of the party, possibly in a much more truncated form.
It is a fact that one sees a downward spiral in the presence and fortunes of the Congress party ever since its 2014 general election rout. The party’s victory in Bihar was courtesy its alliance with the Janata Dal (United)-Rashtriya Janata Dal combine.
One could argue that the bure din (bad days) for the Congress and the acchhe din (good days) for the BJP is a by-product of the specific phase in the cycle of politics that the parties will find themselves in. The real test will be in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Punjab where the BJP and its allies will have to defend their 10-15-year track record as a ruling party and the Congress currently occupies the opposition space.
If the Congress fails to cash in on the opportunity, a Congress-mukt Bharat then could well be a reality. A focus on positive governance rather than the politics of confrontation is clearly the need of the hour and a course correction much warranted at the end of two years.
This politics of confrontation has also taken other forms. The entire debate on the Idea of India and nationalism/patriotism that has been consciously unleashed could have been handled in a more effective and meaningful way. The way this debate has progressed, it has created an environment of hostility in which everything is black and white and cannot accept multiple shades of grey.
The tolerance/intolerance debate that one has seen itself smacks of intolerance of an alternative view point and one had hoped that the government would use its excellent skills of communication to give substance to the debate rather than make it a mere rhetorical football kicked from side to side. Given the fact that the BJP came to power with a 31% vote share and a 52% seat share, it was even more imperative that inclusiveness was the mantra.
The fact that the funnel of support that the party enjoyed was wide among the social and economic elite and narrow among the socially and economically disadvantaged and the minorities required a special effort to reach out to these sections of society. The agrarian crisis that looms large has seen little concrete measures being taken to remedy the situation. Sab Ka Saath, Sab Ka Vikas was a wonderful slogan. One was looking for more concrete steps to see its practical implementation.
The point that is frequently heard at the second anniversary celebration is that one is being unrealistic in expecting in two years what did not happen in 67. Point taken, but two caveats need to be added. The 67 years also saw six years of NDA-1 and two years of Janata government (a party from which the BJP leadership emerged).
Secondly, should these 67 years be a mask to deflect attention away? Can this government change the agenda of debate and not focus on what did not happen in the past, but what can happen in the future? This deep dive into history is often to deflect attention away from the current reality. A positive sense of what can happen rather than a negative narration of why it cannot happen would decidedly tilt the asset side in the balance sheet.
As the Modi government completes two years in office, one looks for the flower of acche din to actually fully bloom. Acche din needs to be a life experience for every Indian citizen across socioeconomic and religious groups. Meaningful inclusiveness, positive politics and action on the ground are truly the need of the hour.
Sandeep Shastri is pro vice-chancellor, Jain University.