‘Good Days’ yet to dawn: Is Modi failed to give new direction to India’s listless economy?
NEW DELHI: When Prime Minister Narendra Modi swept to
power in India’s most resounding election victory in decades, he promised to
revive the sluggish economy, rein in rising food prices, tackle corruption and
overhaul his predecessor’s lacklustre foreign policy.
Many Indians, long accustomed to political stagnation,
believed him. But in recent weeks, critics – and even many supporters – have
started to accuse him of squandering his powerful mandate in this boisterous
country of 1.3 billion people, where such overwhelming election victories are
While acknowledging that Modi only took office in May,
they say they see no change, just more of the same.
Despite Modi’s declarations to engage archrival
Pakistan – and inviting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his inauguration – ties
between the two nations remain stuck where they have been for at least a
The recent national budget announcement – despite
promises of urgent reforms – failed to provide new direction to India’s
listless economy. And Modi’s pledge to clean up the political system has been
tainted by the appointment of Amit Shah, a long-time adviser, to a top
political post even though he is facing murder charges.
“For a government that promised a new narrative, the
adjustment to old ways is striking,” Pratap Bhanu Mehta, who heads the Centre
for Policy Research in New Delhi, wrote in the Indian Express newspaper
The grumbling can be seen on newspaper opinion pages
and heard in the bazaars of New Delhi, where people from all walks of life shop
for food. Staples of the Indian kitchen like potatoes and tomatoes continue to
cost well over a dollar per kilogram, exorbitant for many people. Under the
campaign slogan of “Better Days Ahead,” Modi’s party had promised to control
food prices, among other things.
“Who can afford to eat tomatoes these days?” asked
Sunehri Devi, a 70-year-old who says she’s learning to cook without the key
ingredient in almost every Indian curry. “If I buy the tomatoes I won’t be able
to buy anything else.”
As she filled her shopping bags with potatoes and
pumpkin, Devi said the new government has dashed her hopes of a quick fix to the
surging living costs. “These politicians all make big promises before
elections,” she said. “And now not a squeak out of them.”
Some say Modi’s government should be given some
breathing room. “You can’t start attacking it from day one because it hasn’t
really done anything worthy of attack,” said Ashok Malik, a political analyst
and journalist. “But within four or five months I expect more regular criticism
Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party says the
government is only three months old and that addressing India’s many complex
problems will take time. “We have had to deal with a lot of problems left
behind by the previous government. There are challenges like inflation, and we
will tackle them strongly,” said Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, spokesman for the BJP.
“One must remember that this is not a verdict for two
or four or six months,” he said. “We have a mandate for five years and our work
will be judged over five years. We have only just started working.” Still,
voters are dismayed by Modi’s initial steps – or lack of them.
During the campaign, he had played up his economic
credentials, pointing to the industrial revival of Gujarat state during his
time as chief minister there. He stressed his vision to transform the nation’s
But the national budget announced July 10 was widely
panned as being little more than an extension of the previous government’s
populist – and enormously expensive – policies. Modi retained programs
subsidizing grains, sugar and fuel, as well as caps on foreign direct
investment, which limit fresh capital to fuel business ventures.
Last week, in the Independence Day speech, he referred
to some campaign promises, including accelerating economic reforms, which
lifted India’s benchmark stock index to a record. But it was mostly a
ceremonial speech and didn’t spell out more specifics.
And after the grand gesture of inviting Pakistan’s
Sharif to his inauguration, ties between the two countries remain strained,
particularly over Kashmir. Modi’s first foreign trip was to India’s tiny and
least controversial neighbour, Bhutan.
“After that big start, inviting Nawaz Sharif to the
swearing-in, people are already likening him to Manmohan Singh,” Modi’s subdued
predecessor, said Neerja Chowdhury, a political journalist.
Just this week, a diplomatic spat with Pakistan put
the brakes on renewing the peace process over Kashmir. On Monday, India cancelled
talks with Pakistan after the country’s ambassador to India met with Kashmiri
separatist leaders. Modi’s government had warned the envoy to avoid such a
meeting, but analysts said India overreacted by calling off the talks entirely.
“Pakistan has held meetings with separatists before;
it is not necessary for India to allow itself to be provoked in this manner,”
said Neelam Deo, director of Mumbai-based think tank Gateway House.
And given Modi’s loud promises to crack down on the
corruption and cronyism associated with the Congress-led government, his
decision to name Shah head of the Bharatiya Janata Party appears oddly
Accused of ordering the illegal police killing of a
small-time criminal and his wife, Shah was arrested and spent three months in
jail in 2010. He denies the accusations and has been out on bail while the
cases against him make their way through India’s painfully slow court system.
The two men go way back. Shah was the main architect
of Modi’s electoral victory and the two men have worked closely since the 1980s
when they were volunteers with the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Dal, or the National
“Amit Shah’s elevation also shows that loyalty is
above the principles he’s been espousing,” Chowdhury said. For all his fiery
stump speeches, Modi has been conspicuously quiet since taking office.
“He’s gone into a shell after so much visibility in
the last few months. He’s already become invisible and inaccessible,” Chowdhury
added. “If he won’t keep the dialogue with the people then it’s going to be
hard for him to keep their sympathy.” (Courtesy – AP)