Home >Opinion >Columns >PM Modi faces the biggest test of his second innings

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has just entered the third year of his second term, and it will be interesting to look at the early days of Modi 2.0 before discussing the challenges. He started his second innings as a run-hungry batsman who was eager to make a big score, so he was raining sixes and fours in every corner of the ground. The Modi government divided Jammu and Kashmir into two parts and repealed Article 370. A new Union Territory named Ladakh has emerged on the map of India and the full state status of J&K became a thing of the past. The practice of triple talaq was also declared illegal.

Besides, Modi vowed to make India a $5 trillion economy by 2024. NPAs of public sector banks were a major hurdle, so it was decided to merge 19 banks to constitute four big banks. Despite unprecedented opposition from farmers, crop purchase laws were changed and, in the annual budget presented in February, the path for privatization of government undertakings was cleared. It was made clear that Modi stands for economic reforms.

When everything seemed as smooth sailing and going according to plan, suddenly the coronavirus arrived from China; after wreaking havoc there, it was staring India with a grimace. If we assess the three biggest challenges of Modi’s third year, beginning today, the pandemic spread seems to be the biggest. So far, in India, officially 325,972 people have died. The opposition and some experts claim that the death toll might be much more. Amid these frightening figures, experts seem to warn that a third wave is yet to come. They also said if 70-80% of India’s population does not get vaccinated immediately, such waves will continue. The government claims that everyone will be vaccinated by December, but so far the arrangements have proved inadequate. A vaccination drive for citizens above the age of 18 has already been announced, but hundreds of vaccination centres are closed. No one has a clear answer as to when they will get vaccinated. All the state governments have been raising their voice against it. The central government, they allege, ignored the threat of a pandemic for political gains.

A pandemic does pass away sooner or later, but its wounds are deep and long-lasting. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), the rural unemployment rate hit 13.5% in the week ended 23 May. Look at its pace; on 9 May, this figure was 7.29%. The unemployment rate was found to be 17.4% in cities and the national unemployment rate climbed to a new high of 14.7%. If the lockdowns do not end quickly, the situation may become even more frightening.

Certainly, Modi will also have to address the deteriorating financial condition along with saving lives. This is where his second biggest problem begins. In 2022, elections are going to be held in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Goa and Manipur. The groundwork has already begun. Despite the victories in Assam and Puducherry, the defeat in West Bengal has put a question mark on the BJP’s political abilities. After Modi’s second incumbency, the BJP was able to win only four state elections out of 10. Here also, the role of the allies was very important. That is why many critics claim that even though there is no alternative to Modi at the Centre, where there is a strong state-level party, voters prefer the alternative.

They have another figure to support this claim. As of March 2018, the BJP-led NDA was ruling 21 states, or 71% of India’s population. In April 2019, it was reduced to 18 states. However, in terms of demography, now 49% of the population is ruled by the NDA. The seven states where elections are to be held next year amid all the disparities are very important for the BJP. Of these, only Punjab is ruled by the Congress and the rest are governed by the BJP. Retaining power in these states is going to be the second major challenge for Modi. In Punjab, the BJP has been fighting elections with the Akalis. This time, it has to go it alone. The BJP has lost almost all its old allies over the past five years.

The third biggest challenge for the Modi government is from across the borders. China is still not deterred by its antics. Will the PM be able to restrict China this year? Much has been written on this issue before, so I am not going into the details.

Of course, during Modi’s long reign, he had never faced so many challenges at a time. Whether he will be able to overcome them or not, we have to wait and see. But keep in mind, he has been able to overcome every political problem so far. This is the reason that the eighth year of his reign as pradhan sevak is going to prove interesting, both for his fans as well as his critics.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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