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Business News/ Opinion / Online-views/  Winning at home

Winning at home

In 2015, Narendra Modi lifted the world's opinion of India and its leadership. If only he could do the same at home in 2016

If 2014 was all about Modi and the BJP’s victorious march to power amid widespread hope (and self-belief) that everything would change, then 2015 was the year when everyone reset their expectations. Photo: PIBPremium
If 2014 was all about Modi and the BJP’s victorious march to power amid widespread hope (and self-belief) that everything would change, then 2015 was the year when everyone reset their expectations. Photo: PIB

In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited 25 countries and seemed happy doing so. He was greeted by throngs of cheering Indians in most, and welcomed with open arms by all. He acquitted himself well too. His personality, and the almost spontaneous warmth he exudes when in the presence of other global leaders, meant that India was not just acknowledged at global fora, but also accorded the importance the world’s largest democracy (and fastest growing major economy) deserves.

In India, though, Modi is increasingly becoming a silent and brooding presence, and understandably so. Political feuding has marred proceedings in Parliament, especially the Rajya Sabha, where the ruling coalition is in a minority. Only 7.02 hours of work got done, out of a possible 82.5 hours, in the upper house during the monsoon session, according to PRS Legislative Research, a non-profit institute. In the winter session, the Rajya Sabha sat for 57 hours out of an available 112 hours; most of the time was wasted in squabbling.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which couldn’t seem to put a foot wrong in 2013 and 2014, lost two crucial state elections, in Delhi, and Bihar. The chief ministers of two BJP-ruled states came under fire for alleged corruption and his foreign minister was accused of favouring a man accused of corruption in the conduct of the Indian Premier League cricket tournament who is now living in exile in London.

Towards the end of 2015, his finance minister came under fire over allegations of corruption in Delhi’s cricket association. The weather gods were cruel—unseasonal winter rains in February were followed by a deficient monsoon that resulted in 10 states declaring droughts of varying intensity.

The anti-Modi brigade managed to provoke a national and parliamentary debate on intolerance after sections of his party said and did the kind of things that have no place in a secular and civilized democracy (indeed, it is the claim of Modi’s detractors that these aren’t the doings of some fringe elements in the party, but reflect the position of the party itself, and its leaders). Many who support Modi for his anti-corruption stance and the BJP for its economic ideology (centrist but leaning to the right) are uncomfortable with these sayings and doings.

There was better news on the economic front. Irrespective of the debate about the numbers and how they are calculated, India’s economy is showing signs of growing faster than it did last year.

Oil and commodity prices continued to remain low, and the Chinese economy started slowing. Companies appear to have put their worst behind them although a significant climb lies ahead of them before they can match their best.

Interest rates are beginning to look benign, and public investment, according to the latest available data, is beginning to pick up (private investment will take time to do so). But everyone is becoming impatient with the rate of progress and the inability of the government to push through key reforms, such as the goods and services tax (GST) law that will create a unified Indian market.

To complete a quick summary of the report card thus far, there have also been no instances of blatant and flagrant corruption, of a scale similar to the so-called scams in spectrum and coal block allocations that took place during the second term of the previous Congress-led government.

Indeed, coal blocks were auctioned in a transparent manner without the whiff of scandal that Indians have grown to expect from any allotment of national resources to private companies.

Towards the end of the year, foreign investment ceilings across various sectors were eased, and a proposal to set up two locomotive factories, hanging fire for over a decade, was finally cleared.

If 2014 was all about Modi and the BJP’s victorious march to power amid widespread hope (and self-belief) that everything would change, then 2015 was the year when everyone reset their expectations.

Big Business is learning that the pace of reform will be incremental and no longer talks of big bang changes. It has also understood that while the new government is pro-business (in intent, if not in action), it is unlikely to indulge in crony capitalism.

Meanwhile, Modi and Co. are learning that the opposition, despite its numbers in the Lok Sabha, isn’t going to roll over and play dead, and that the fringe elements have to be reined in (or, buying the argument that there is no fringe, that it has to curb its own extreme tendencies).

There was hope before the winter session when Modi seemed to be practising at home the kind of diplomacy he does outside. He reached out to the opposition, which seemed ready to play ball, but bad timing put paid to any hopes that Parliament would finally take up important bills for discussion and passage.

A Delhi court ruled that the Gandhis (Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi) would have to appear in court in a case filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy (when he was not part of the BJP) and related to improprieties involved in acquiring a company. The Congress saw this as another attempt by the government to attack its most important leaders and the emerging bonhomie vanished.

Modi and the BJP will have to try again. The prime minister remains a popular man. According to the latest poll on his approval ratings (Mint conducts one at regular intervals), 74% of respondents think he is doing a good job. That number will increase should he find a way to carry the opposition along—at least when it comes to enacting laws of national importance.

India awaits its own Paris (think COP21) moment in 2016.

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Published: 31 Dec 2015, 09:43 PM IST
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