The crisis has confounded global leaders as they grapple to claw back their economies from a recession, and pales in comparison with The Great Depression or the mayhem caused by Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918. Incidentally, the flu had claimed 10-20 million Indians lives, making it the worst-hit country.
It is in the backdrop of the pandemic, which has forced the country to remain in a lockdown for over 60 days now, and its severe blow to individuals and the economy, that the BJP takes stock of its achievements and failures in the past one year.
Article 370, CAA, triple talaq and Ram Mandir judgment
Soon after coming back to power in May last year in the world’s second-most populous nation, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) pushed its political agenda and the Union government revoked Article 370 and 35-A. With the special status for Jammu and Kashmir removed and the state divided into two union territories, the decision bearing Modi’s leitmotif holds a special and emotive significance for BJP and its predecessor Bharatiya Jana Sangh, founded by Syama Prasad Mukherjee.
This, from a party that made electoral history in 2019, from just two seats in 1984 Lok Sabha elections.
Despite political backlash, came the passage of Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, that banned instant triple talaq among Muslims and pronouncement of the Ram Mandir judgment.
With the Supreme Court (SC) giving its verdict in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute in favour of the majority community, BJP’s yet another long standing demand got fulfilled. The party had carried out a nationwide campaign for construction of a temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, which helped it expand its social and electoral base nearly three decades ago.
Buoyed by the favourable tailwinds and under Modi's imprimatur, the BJP ploughed ahead undeterred and the government passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019, in December, which led to nationwide protests on the allegation that the controversial Act discriminated the Muslim community when seen in conjunction with the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
“Completion of one year of Modi 2.0 is all about keeping promises! It’s also about three ‘R’s! Reaffirmation, Resoluteness and Resurgence ! Earlier stint was about effective implementation of welfare schemes that yielded remarkable results. With renewed and extended mandate translating the Reaffirmation of commitment to doing away with Article 370 and introducing CAA in keeping with the promise was very natural to happen," said Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, vice president of BJP.
Along came the virus
The government, however, is now faced with one of the most unprecedented challenges in form of the spread of coronavirus. Apart from a massive healthcare crisis, the over two-month long national lockdown has highlighted the plight of migrant labours, impact on poor and farmers as well as increasing demand from state governments for more financial aid from the Centre.
Amid escalating border tensions with China, the Indian economy is staring at a precipice as businesses shutter down and job losses become a norm. With around one out of every four workers in India jobless, the government unveiled a Rs20 trillion stimulus package, which many economists argue as inadequate.
However, India has been facing economic headwinds much before the coronavirus pandemic caused mayhem across geographies. India’s economic growth has slumped to its lowest level in the current series at 3.1% in the March quarter and fresh data suggests that the economy may be heading for a major shock in the June quarter. Data released by the statistics department showed, India's GDP grew at 4.2% in fiscal 2020, against 6.1% in the previous year as private consumption slowed down and investment demand contracted even before the pandemic hit the economy.
The opposition has been quick to grasp an opportunity and has been critical of the BJP’ playbook.
Jaiveer Shergill, senior leader and spokesperson of the Congress party, said issues such as unemployment and border disputes have underlined one year of second term of Modi.
“Rather than being in a reform mode, this government is in a self-congratulatory mode, behaving like a doctor who does not want to acknowledge existence of a disease," said Shergill.
However, political scientists believe that Modi continues to enjoy his Teflon image of being someone who has been tough on corruption, terrorism and a practitioner of a welfare state model.
“The government has managed crises very well be it demonetisation or the migrant problem during covid-19 because people believe that the virus has come from somewhere else and the government cannot be blamed. There is a general sense among people that the government has managed to save lives even when most of the developed countries were unable to do it," said Sanjay Kumar, director of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).
Reforms and welfare agenda
In its first year of the second term, the Modi government also put its weight behind the labour reforms, that picked up pace. Four labour codes that merged all central labour laws to improve ease of doing business have been tabled in the parliament, of which the labour code on wages has become a law. India also allowed more fixed term employment across industries, a long pending demand of the industries. The union government has also suggested states to go for labour reforms at their level to attract investment.
As India nears the end of world’s harshest lockdown, the first year of Modi’ second term also saw the creation of the post of the Chief of Defence Staff; launch of PM Kisan Samman Nidhi, wherein around Rs72,000 crore got deposited in the accounts of over 9 crore 50 lakh farmers, the Jal Jeevan Mission for potable drinking water supply, and monthly pension to farmers, farm labourers, small shopkeepers and workers in the unorganised sector.
“Our Parliament has broken the decades- old record in terms of productivity," Modi who refers to himself as Pradhan Sevak or chief servant said in an open letter to mark his first year in office.
While the first session of Parliament in the second term of the NDA government was record breaking in terms of its productivity, opposition parties allege that several legislations did not go through required parliamentary committee scrutiny and detailed deliberation in both the Houses.
On the foreign policy front, despite tensions in India’ immediate neighbourhood experts believe that the government has done a decent job.
The novel coronavirus pandemic gave India the opportunity to burnish its credentials as the"pharmacy of the world" with India now in a position to export, personal protective equipment (PPEs), masks and ventilators, said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.
“This in turn helped India to negate the bad press it had received on account of (the revocation) article 370, CAA and NRC," said Sibal.
The year started with Prime minister Modi inviting the leaders of the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) regional grouping comprising Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal for his swearing in. This marked a departure from 2014, when he had invited the leaders of South Asia for his swearing in.
“It was a strengthening of the neighbourhood policy and the Act East policy. It illustrated that India wanted to move ahead without Pakistan that was creating road blocks within SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation)," added Sibal.
Also, there was a deepening of ties with the US, specially with the visit of President Donald Trump to India. It was Trump’s first presidential visit to India and the fifth official visit by a serving US president to the country since 2000. In contrast, between 1947 and 2000, India saw only three such visits.
On the whole, “I would say it was rather positive for India" on the diplomatic front, Sibal said.
With the ruling alliance under Prime Minister Narendra Modi being the only political party other than Congress to have come back to power, the BJP is facing a problem that it believes can be leveraged into an opportunity. Modi, the main architect of BJP’s successive victories pitched for a self-reliant India, or Aatmanirbhar Bharat as India aspires to make a play for larger role in the global supply chains.
Leveraging the social capital he earned after winning a landslide re-election last year, Modi has sought to enlist citizens as stakeholders in the battle against the pandemic that first erupted in Wuhan in China late December.
A successful management of the pandemic by India will also pave the way for the nation’s mindset reset; something that has been not tried on this scale for 1.3 billion people in a democratic framework.
Elizabeth Roche & Prashant Nanda contributed to the story.